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Full text of "Mary McLeod Bethune and the National Council of Negro Women"

I 29.58/3:W 84 



Clemson Universi 




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Historic Resource Study 






MARY McLEOD BETHUNE 

AND THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF NEGRO WOMEN 
Pursuing a True and Unfettered Democracy 






For the 



Mary McLeod Bethune Council House 
National Historic Site 
National Park Service 



By 



Elaine M. Smith 



*&%* 



Alabama State University 
September 2003 



DEPOSITORY ITEM 



DEC 1 1 2007 

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Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

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It is our pledge to make a lasting contribution 
to all that is finest and best in America 

• • • 
and thus aid her to achieve the glorious destiny of 
a true and unfettered democracy. 



From the Preamble to the Constitution of the National Council of Negro Women 

November 1954 



CONTENTS 

Illustrations / iii 
Preface I iv 
Acknowledgments I ix 

Introduction: Uncommon Woman / 1 

I. BECOMING A COMPELLING PRESENCE: THE NEW DEAL AND BEYOND 

Chapter 1 - March Towards Empowerment / 19 

Introduction 

Objectives 

Non-Traditional Typologies 

Context 

Creating the New Organization 

Settling-In 

Getting on the Map: A White House Conference 
Chapter 2 - Womanist Leader in Government / 61 

Introduction 

Adviser 

Administrative Assistant 

Transcending the NYA 

Division Director 

Afterglow 
Chapter 3 - Hallmarks of Growth and Relevancy / 132 

Introduction 

A Case for Growth and Relevancy 

The Annual Meeting 

Reaching Out 

Internal Operations 

Wartime Emphasis 

Wartime Pride: Women's Army Coips 

H. 1318 VERMONT AVENUE 
EXPANDING BLACK WOMEN'S PARTICIPATION IN CIVIC AFFAIRS 

Chapter 4 - Victories and Hopes: New Home, Old Interests / 210 

Introduction 

Concerning Headquarters 
Special to Bethune 
Internationalism 
Domestic Issues 
Chapter 5 - Commendations and Moving On / 267 
Introduction 
A Bethune Triumph 



11 



Continuity in Change 

Towards "A True and Unfettered Democracy" 
Chapter 6 - Still Citizen Extraordinaire / 308 

Introduction 

Golden Years 

Creative and Transforming Experiences 

Into Immortality 
Chapter 7 - Council House and the Public / 334 

Introduction 

Governing Principles 

Leads for the Future 

Council House Post Cards 

Appendices / 349 

A. Annual Meetings of the National Council of Negro Women, 1935-1955 

B. Milestones during Mary McLeod Bethune's NCNW Presidency, 1935-1949 

C. National Affiliates of the National Council of Negro Women in 1949 



Ill 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

White House Conference Participants (1938) 19 

First NCNW Group Photograph in Council House ( 1 943 ) 265 
Mary McLeod Bethune in Council House Reception Room (1945) 266 

Postcards 

Bethune Council House 344 

Mary McLeod Bethune Stature in Lincoln Park 344 

Mary McLeod Bethune at White House Gate ( 1 947) 345 

Mary McLeod Bethune and the Capital ( 1 949) 345 

Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt ( 1 943) 346 

President Harry Truman and Black Leaders (1951) 346 



IV 



Preface 



It's been almost a half century since, Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) accepted the 
accolades of eight hundred people on her last visit to the nation's capital. Appropriately, the 
occasion was a "Brotherhood Luncheon" at the Willard Hotel, sponsored by the National 
Council of Negro Women. Three months later, a heart attack had stilled Bethune' s organ- 
chimed voice that had been raised over a half century for decency and justice. Fortunately, the 
organization that she had founded in 1935 as the united instrument of African American women, 
especially in national and international affairs, continued functioning. It did so from 
headquarters at 1318 Vermont Avenue in northwest Washington. This had served also as 
Bethune's residence during the last six years of her fourteen-year council presidency. In 1966, 
due to a fire, the NCNW abandoned the Vermont Avenue facility. It was restored in the late 
1970's as a museum and archives. In 1994 the property went from private to public stewardship, 
under the auspices of the National Park Service, which christened it the Mary McLeod Bethune 
Council House National Historic Site. 

During the dormancy of the Council House, the NCNW brought Mary Bethune back to 
Washington in a stature larger than life ensconced in Lincoln Park, "exactly one mile east from 
the center of the U.S. Capitol Building on L'Enfant's original plan for Washington." 1 There, the 
seventeen-foot bronze Bethune reminds all who notice that she rendered special services to the 
country. Given this fact, a logical query is, "What services?" The Bethune Council House 
contains many answers, particularly relating to her work in the capital. This Historic Resource 



Study on Bethune and the council, 1935-1955, supplies some answers too, found in no other 
place. Little published scholarship exists on this topic, perhaps because academe and other 
institutions facilitating research have traditionally neglected to scrutinize the experiences of 
African American women; also, relevant manuscript sources have been either unknown or 
accessible only on a limited basis. In fact, only in the last year or two have all four parts of the 
Mary McLeod Bethune Papers, Bethune Foundation Archive—the mother lode of Bethune 's 
papers-been available on microfilm. 

Use of such rich primary sources undergirds this investigation, which is to provide "a 
historical framework for future interpretive and cultural resource management efforts." Viewed 
from the angle of Washington, it is organized into two divisions: one roughly predates Mary 
Bethune's establishment of a NCNW headquarters building; the other postdates it. First, 
however, the NCNW Founder is presented in the Introduction, "Uncommon Woman," especially 
in relation to the council, that organization of women's organizations. In part one, "Becoming a 
Compelling Presence: the New Deal and Beyond," two chapters focus on NCNW history: 
"March Towards Empowerment," discusses the creation of the council, carrying the story to its 
first nationally recognized milestone, a White House Conference; and "Hallmarks of Growth 
and Relevancy" takes it into the World War II period. The other chapter, "Womanist Leader in 
Government," emphasizes Bethune's leadership for youth and all black America. It informs 
other chapters by revealing a basis for her ability to hold the sometimes fractious National 
Council together and promote its agenda. 

In part two, "Expanding Black Women's Participation in Civic Affairs," the NCNW 
organizational narrative is resumed in two chapters. Within the late 1943-1949 time span, 



VI 

"Victories and Hopes: New Home, Old Interests," highlights the role of the headquarters 
building, recounts the council's internationalism, and discusses its domestic issue-oriented 
program. "Commendations and Moving On," considers the culmination of Bethune's 
presidency, a summary coverage of the Dorothy Boulding Ferebee and Vivian Carter Mason 
administrations, and an assessment of the council's first twenty years. "Still Citizen 
Extraordinaire," surveys Bethune's life after retirement in 1949 and the circumstances of her 
death. The final chapter ruminates on the contemporary "Council House and the Public." 
Rounding out this work are statements for easy reference on "Annual Meetings of the National 
Council of Negro Women, 1935-1955," "Milestones during Mary McLeod Bethune's NCNW 
Presidency, 1935-1949," and "National Affiliates of the National Council of Negro Women in 
1949." 

"Mrs. Bethune had a dynamic personality, drive, and a willingness to see herself as 
epitomizing the capabilities of the black woman," an informed Bethune contemporary observed. 
"She never settled for less because of race; she knew what she wanted, and she went after it. 
She managed to reach anybody she sought out." 2 Near the mid-twentieth century, such a leader 
was indispensable in facilitating an organizational empowerment of black women. It was not 
easy for the NCNW, bearing in mind the low incomes of black women and widespread denial of 
Constitutional rights to its members and constituents because of their African descent; plus, the 
circumscribed political impact of women's organizations in general, when compared to male- 
dominated organizations. 

Nonetheless, the NCNW moved forward. During the twenty years that its Founder either 
led or later watched over it, the National Council enriched the infrastructure of networks created 



Vll 

by women of color, especially through the nurture of national affiliates and local councils. It 
significantly multiplied points of positive contacts between black and white women leaders at a 
time when apartheid ruled race relations. It projected enhanced images of African American 
women and their history to the country and the world that somewhat corrected their skewed 
images then circulating. It helped to pioneer the professional employment of black women in 
the federal establishment. It made the presence of black women customary at national and 
international meetings involving women, sponsored by either the federal government or well 
established private groups. And, it advanced civil rights as a national issue. In all of this, the 
NCNW looked towards promoting "a true and unfettered democracy." 3 

The indispensable sources on which this study is based are the National Council of Negro 
Women Papers in the Bethune Council House National Historic Site, and the Mary McLeod 
Bethune Papers, Bethune Foundation Archive. For the latter papers, I use the abbreviation BF 
without further identification in cases were documents were obtained prior to the processing of 
the collection, an activity commenced in the mid-1990's. Helpful scholarship informing this 
study that was omitted from the extensive Bethune bibliography that my colleague Audrey 
Thomas McCluskey and I compiled for Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World (1999), 
is Joyce Ann Hanson's dissertation on Bethune and the "Political Mobilization of Women." 4 

This Historic Resource Study confirms the wisdom of the National Park Service 
preserving the Council House site as a national treasure. It supports the appropriateness of the 
Park Service aggressively disseminating the story of "Mary McLeod Bethune and the National 
Council of Negro Women Pursuing a True and Unfettered Democracy" to ever widening circles 
of people. The woman and the organization symbolize a triumph of the human spirit that is 



Vlll 

integral to American history. 

Elaine M. Smith 
Alabama State University 



Notes 

1. Sandra Fitzpatrick and Maria R. Goodwin, The Guide to Black Washington: Places 
and Events of Historical and Cultural Significance in the Nation 's Capital (New York: 
Hippocrene Books, 1999), 60. 

2. Frederick D. Patterson, Chronicles of Faith: The Autobiography of Frederick D. 
Patterson (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991), 145. 

3. Achieving "the glorious destiny of a true and unfettered democracy" were the last 
words in the NCNW pledge during the 1940's and 1950's. See NCNW Informational Statement, 
1946, National Council of Negro Women Papers, Series 2, Box 2, Folder 29, Mary McLeod 
Bethune Council House National Historic Site. 

4. Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith, Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a 
Better World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 297-305; Joyce Ann Hanson, "The 
Ties that Bind: Mary McLeod Bethune and the Political Mobilization of Women" (Ph. D 
dissertation, University of Connecticut, 1997). 



IX 



Acknowledgments 

I am deeply grateful to the many people who made possible my research and writing this 
Historic Resource Study on "Mary McLeod Bethune and the National Council of Negro Women: 
Pursuing a True and Unfettered Democracy" for the National Park Service. The list begins with 
individuals recommending me to undertake this task, among whom were historians Bettye- 
Collier Thomas and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn and Council House site director Diane Jacox. 
Council House cultural resource specialist Robert Parker, was the face of the Park Service in this 
endeavor. He worked diligently to effect a Cooperative Agreement between his agency and 
Alabama State University, which permitted me to undertake this work. At my university, Vice- 
President for Grants and Contracts William Brock, our liaison with Parker, unstintingly 
supported the project, including eliciting the approval of President Joe A. Lee. Since then he 
and his office, including grants director Harriet Hubbard, have helped to move the study 
forward, along with Vice-President Evelyn White, Dean Clifford Bibb, Minnie Wood in Special 
Collections and other library personnel. 

I extend my gratitude to staffers in multiple research facilities who kindly and efficiently 
assisted me as I prepared this study. In New York City I worked in the Columbia University 
Oral History Collections; and the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture in 
Manuscripts, Sound and Films, Photographs and Prints, and General Reference. At Hyde Park, 
New York, I examined several collections in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and 
visited Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt's home. In Boston, I searched through more manuscript 



collections at the Schlesinger Library for Women's History at the Radcliffe Institute for 
Advanced Women's Studies. At Chapel Hill, I researched a portion of the Frank Porter Graham 
Collection at the University of North Carolina. In Montgomery, I continued to survey on 
microfilm documents in the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation Collection, a microfilm project 
in four parts for which I was the editorial adviser. 

Research in Washington was indispensable. There I worked at the Historical Society of 
Washington, D.C.; Library of Congress; Martin Luther King Library-especially for newspapers 
on microfilm; American Red Cross headquarters, where historian Brien Williams made my work 
easy; and University Publications of America, where staffers Randy Boehm and Nicki Hume 
graciously facilitated my acquaintance with unprocessed Bethune Foundation papers and 
Bethune's testimonies before Congressional Committees. Also I utilized the Moorland-Spingarn 
Research Center at Howard University, encountering Janet Sims- Wood, whose bibliographies on 
black women, including Bethune, have long aided my research. 

As might be expected, in the course of this study I came to know the Bethune Council 
House. Rangers Margaret Coleman and Lavel Merritt, and Specialist Robert Parker all went 
beyond the call of duty in advancing this project. Parker facilitated my use of the Council House 
Archives and my visit of requested city sites associated with Mary Bethune. This included the 
White House, where Park Service White House Director Ann Bowman Smith conducted a tour, 
and White House assistant curator Lydia S. Tederick displayed requested photographs. 

Besides individuals at research sites, I also acknowledge several others. I thank 
Professor Bettye Collier-Thomas and Park Service historians Gary Scott and Frank Faragasso for 
their comments on a component of the study. In addition to Faragasso's written observations, he 



XI 

was kind enough to share his encouraging remarks at a professional meeting. I also appreciate 
the encouragement of my Department chairperson and other ASU colleagues, and other friends, 
including Sangernetta Bush and Lillian Wilson Hill. Furthermore, I am deeply indebted to my 
family, particularly my mother B.J. Moore, sister Elizabeth M. Johnson, and husband Alfred S. 
Smith, who have unfailingly supported all of my Mary McLeod Bethune endeavors. 



Introduction: Uncommon Woman 



You and I must fight as never before to make our government realize 
the ideals upon which it was founded. . . . We must help save the soul 
of our nation and its way of life so we can really save the world. ' 



Mary McLeod Bethune ( 1 875-1955) tackled the most intractable issue of her time and 
all American history: the gargantuan inequality between blacks and whites. Most simply call it 
racism. Working counter to its entrenched magnetism, she helped to advance the status of 
African Americans, particularly women, and by so doing extended the parameters of democracy. 
As Gunner Myrdal acknowledges in An American Dilemma, his 1944 authoritative and 
panoramic survey of race in the United States, a gifted race leader required political skills of the 
highest caliber, including "a set of practical ideals, a training in strategy, and a respect for 
courage, patience, and loyalty." Bethune had them all. 

Bethune acted as a liaison between blacks and whites, for in her day the masses of the 
two races did not normally interact, especially politically, but made that a function of their 
respective leaders. She possessed skills well-suited for a liaison including superb oratory and a 
humanitarian soul from which "she gave out faith and hope as if they were pills and she some 
sort of doctor." 2 In the 1930's, during the zenith of her career, one University of Nebraska 
professor declared, "I do not believe that our students or I have ever met with a woman who is so 
inspiring and who is able to interpret things in such a tactful way to a mixed audience that they 
get her points without getting any feeling of animosity." He then notes characteristics 
contributing to her impact. "She is so natural in her approach, and so uninhibited, and so free of 



2 
any complexes, that one can approach the problem of race relations with complete freedom and 
really get the Negro's interpretation. 3 With such gifts, this phenomenal woman helped to make 
civil rights for a people once enslaved an inescapable agenda item for American society. As a 
woman, simultaneously she drew attention to career women and other gender-related matters. 

One indication of Mary McLeod Bethune's success on the race-gender front, was the 
immediate response of the press to her death from a heart attack on May 18, 1955. Reflecting 
Black America's sense that a titan had fallen, the Atlanta Daily World proclaimed her life "one 
of the most dramatic careers ever enacted at any time upon the stage of human activity." 
Indicative of a more restrained liberal white press, the Washington Post affirmed, "So great were 
her dynamism and force that it was almost impossible to resist her. . . . Not only her own people 
but all America has been enriched and ennobled by her courageous, ebullient spirit." Capturing 
both her character and popular white feelings, her hometown Daytona Beach Evening News 
editorialized: "To some she seemed unreal, something that could not be. . . . What right had she 
to greatness? . . . The lesson of Mrs. Bethune's life is that genius knows no racial barriers." 4 

In the depression year 1930, as Bethune staggered but maintained her private junior 
college, the North American Newspaper Alliance requested popular journalist Ida B. Tarbell to 
name the fifty living American women who had done the most for the welfare of the United 
States. Using the criteria of ability to initiate or create, to lead or to inspire, and to carry on 
showing continuing power, Tarbell wisely ranked Mary McLeod Bethune among the likes of 
Children's Bureau Administrator Grace Abbot, settlement founder and social reformer Jane 
Addams, suffragist and peace leader Carrie Chapman Cart, aviator Amelia Earhart, writer and 
advocate for the handicapped Helen Keller, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, social reformer 



3 
Frances Perkins, birth control reformer Margaret Sanger, novelist Edith Wharton, and college 

president Mary Woolley. 5 

Arguably, Bethune traversed a greater distance than any of these luminaries to impact the 
nation. Scholars have studied her life relatively little, however, particularly her leadership in 
women's organizations. In 1944, when considering business and professional groups, Gunnar 
Myrdal wrote, "Special mention must be given to the National Council of Negro Women even 
though we cannot describe or evaluate it." Since Myrdal' s day, writers are beginning to 
describe and evaluate the council better, thanks in part to the opening of the NCNW Papers and 
the recent accessibility of the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation Archive on microfilm. 

Nonetheless, published scholarly essays and books that explore Mary Bethune's work 
within the NCNW are few. The two most used Bethune biographies-no scholarly biography 
exists—predate the fore-mentioned archival developments and give short shrift to the National 
Council. Catherine Peare's Bethune, published in 1951, treats the NCNW in less than four 
pages; thirteen years later, Rackham Holt's Bethune carries less than five. Pitching their books 
to young readers, both writers focused on Bethune's educational career. In 1981, the National 
Council of Negro Women published the only book-length documented survey of the 
organization, written by historic preservationist and historian Bettye Collier-Thomas. Bethune's 
presidency is discussed within seven pages plus notes. A few other studies provide helpful data 
on Bethune and the council, but typically their focus is elsewhere. 6 Consequently, given the 
relative dearth of scholarly secondary sources, this Historic Resource Study on Bethune and the 
NCNW is pioneering a vital aspect of the history of black women's national leadership. As 
such, it reveals significant information about the challenges faced by African American distaff 



4 
leaders and their responses to them. 

Perhaps when the scholarship on Bethune relative to leadership in women's 
organizations, the black advancement movement, education, and government are combined, a 
consensus will emerge ranking her in the handful of greatest women in the annals of the country. 
African American scholars have already reached a consensus concerning her in relation to other 
blacks. For having crossed a field to make an essential contribution to the development of black 
America, they place Bethune among the "Four Greats," along with Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. 
DuBois, and Martin Luther King. 7 

Currently, with a perspective of nearly a half century, and an improved comprehension of 
the civic contributions of women and their organizations, dimensions of the legendary Mary 
McLeod Bethune may be understood, however incomplete the scholarship is at this time. Her 
pioneering work laid a foundation for America's acceptance of a Condoleezza Rice as a 
prominent adviser to a U.S. President. Her beautiful and accredited institution of higher 
education, the only one in the country a woman has developed from a small elementary school to 
a baccalaureate college, continues in the serious business of molding minds and lives. Her 
National Council of Negro Women continues as a networking entity to advance the causes of 
gender, race, and country. The beliefs on which Bethune staked her life continue to be relevant 
to a nation racially divided, but still seeking "a more perfect union." As stated in her literary 
"My Last Will and Testament," her beliefs "may be viewed as a part of the universal attributes 
needed for a positive, multicultural life in the Western world, and elsewhere," even though they 
developed in the unique context of the black struggle in the United States. 8 But most of all, Mary 
McLeod Bethune continues to inspire generation after generation with the promise of America 



5 
and the triumph of the human spirit. 

Little wonder that Bethune has been acknowledged as an extraordinary American in 

multiple ways, including namesake streets, parks, buildings, and organizations. Her picture 

hangs in the South Carolina state house in Columbia and it has also appeared on a 

commemorative United States postage stamp. The Florida's Women Hall of Fame in 

Tallahassee, the South Carolina Hall of Fame in Myrtle Beach, and the National Women's Hall 

of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York, all celebrate her achievements. Her residence in Daytona 

Beach, Florida, appears on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1975 it became the first 

Florida site to so commemorate an African American. Her residence in Washington, DC. is 

now officially the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, National Historic Site, under the 

auspices of the National Park Service. Moreover, Bethune is immortalized in a bronze sculpture 

in the nation's capital, which in 1974 became the first statue on federal land in Washington to 

honor either an African American or a woman. 

Although such tributes foster an acquaintance with Bethune, she may be appreciated 

properly only in the context of her times—the Great Depression, World War II, Cold War, 

McCarthyism, Civil Rights Struggle, White Supremacist Backlash, and other overarching 

developments. During the last two decades of her life, 1935-1955, the time frame of this study, 

the racial inequality that starkly blanketed the land increasingly concerned her. The desire to 

maintain it bore so deeply into the American psyche that Bethune and allies seldom even used 

the words "civil rights." Often Bethune made the term "door" a metaphor for civil rights. In 

1938, she explained, "A door has been sealed up for two hundred years. You can't open it 

overnight but little crevices are coming. . ." More frequently, liberals couched civil rights in 



terms of democracy or democratic values and principles. Bethune's government agency, the 
temporary National Youth Administration, for example, retrospectively noted, "Of primary 
significance to the carrying out of democratic principles was the consistent attitude of NYA 
officials toward nondiscrimination." 9 Especially nearing World War II and afterwards, as the 
nation's leaders bandied democracy as an opposite to fascism and later, to communism, civil 
rights activists emphasized democracy more than ever. In 1939, Bethune quoted President 
Franklin D. Roosevelt in his address to the 76 th Congress: "If another form of government can 
present a united front in its attack on a democracy, the attack must be met by a united 
democracy." Then to a distinguished assembly of black leaders she added, "No such 'united 
democracy' can possibly exist unless this 'common opportunity' is available to all Americans 
regardless of creed, class, or color." Here, within the context of democracy, "common 
opportunity" became her metaphor for civil rights. 10 

But whether termed common opportunity, door, or democratic principle, the lack of civil 
rights or equality circumscribed African Americans. In 1940, for example, more than a ten-year 
differential existed in the life expectancy of blacks and whites. Non- white males lived an 
average of 51.5 years and females, 54.9 years; whereas, white males lived an average of 62. 1 
years and females, 66.6. With more than 75 percent of the country's 12,866,000 blacks in the 
South, that region spent an average of $18.82 on the public education of an African American 
but $58.69 on that of a white. 11 In statements published in 1939, Bethune conveyed such 
inequality. Relative to blacks, she remarked that poor, segregated and sometimes nonexistent 
schools and health services, in tandem with lynching and disfranchisement, came packaged with 
appalling economics. Three million African Americans were essentially dependent farmers; a 



7 
little more than three million others were domestics "generally working long hours for a little 

pay." Another group, between two and three million, were "at the mercy of trade unions, often 

barred from membership and forced to 'scab' in order to work." And with another large segment 

of the populace unemployed, only a fraction of the African American labor force held relatively 

desirable jobs. 12 

While the status of blacks improved during Bethune's life, embodied and highlighted by 
the 1954 Brown Decision of the United States Supreme Court, which outlawed the "separate but 
equal" doctrine in public education, advancement appeared piecemeal and painfully slow in a 
rapidly changing world. Racism so ruled the South that in December 1955, the initial request in 
part of Martin Luther King and other Montgomery Bus Boycotters was not desegregated seating, 
but merely that whites be seated from the front to the rear and blacks from the rear to the front. 1J 

The racial temper of the times in relation to Bethune requires an awareness of ebony 
women and their status. They were "so hampered by the multiple burdens of gender, race, and 
class that of all groups in the nation," they were "on the farthest fringes of opportunity, 
economic security, and civic participation," and thus regarded by mainstream society chiefly as a 
cipher. Consequently, regardless of significant accomplishments, they customarily inhabited the 
shadows of public life, even in advancing the race. In dealing with whites, often in situations of 
gender subordination, they struggled for opportunities commensurate with those already 
available to white women. 14 In 1933 when Frances Perkins became the first woman in a 
presidential cabinet and other white women appeared on the national scene, not one race sister 
in the entire country was a legislator, judge, or ranking agency administrator either locally or 
nationally. In fact, black women had difficulty getting jobs in mainstream America as clerks, 



8 
secretaries, and sometimes domestics. Most were employed in agriculture and domestic 
service. 11 Moreover, sometimes they were at a disadvantage vis-a-vis black men, for they were 
barred from certain situations admitting their brothers. In 1936 Bethune confessed, "Whether it 
be my religion, my aesthetic taste, my economic opportunity, my educational desire, whatever 
the craving is, I find a limitation because I suffer the greatest known handicap, [to be] a Negro~a 
Negro woman." 15 

Bethune not only coped with being a black woman, but being an unattractive one in the 
minds of many during her day and since, even though all knowledgeable people have noted her 
commanding presence. Her raven hue, kinky-textured hair, flaring nose, and full lips 
demonstrated an overwhelming African ancestry when society— including most of her 
contemporary African Americans—identified such literal blackness and Negroid features with 
ugliness and inferiority. 16 "She was black as coal. She was stumpy in stature. A little like Jesus, 
in that she had no form or comeliness," a white friend reported. An African American friend 
spoke idiomatically but with a qualifier. Bethune was "ugly as homemade sin, but when she 
began moving. . . she became beautiful." 17 Most informed blacks probably would have 
substituted, "when she began speaking," as this writer has heard several times, "she became 
beautiful." Historian Constance Green had heard about the same thing, for in describing 
Bethune she related, "With her deep-chocolate-colored skin, her heavy build, and rather 
prognathous jaw, she seemed like a product of darkest Africa—until she spoke." Even so, since 
"beauty is in the eye of the beholder, "opinions of Bethune's physical attractiveness undoubtedly 
have varied. At birth, however, neighbors thought her homely. 18 

Mary McLeod was born the fifteenth of seventeen children to former slaves Sam and 



9 
Patsy McLeod near Mayesville, South Carolina, in the twilight of Reconstruction. She grew up 

in a county having in 1880 9,979 whites dominating 27,058 African Americans in ways 

reminiscent of the past. A lifetime later, having moved from the status of poor, rural, black girl 

to national leader, Bethune succinctly silhouetted her career: "I have risen from the cotton 

fields of South Carolina to found a college, administer it. . . become a public servant in the 

government and country, and a leader of women." 19 

During her first twenty-one years, multiple factors enabled her to rise. She found a sense 
of security based upon faith in God and then in herself, at home—especially through her mother's 
influence--and in the institutions she attended: Trinity Presbyterian Mission School, outside of 
Mayesville, South Carolina; Scotia Seminary in Concord, North Carolina; and the Bible School 
for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago, later named the Moody Bible Institute. She 
associated with two phenomenal African American females who established boarding schools. 
They were Emma Jane Wilson, her first teacher and later the founder of the Mayesville 
Educational and Industrial Institute and the more prominent Lucy C. Laney, the creator of the 
Haines Normal and Industrial School in Augusta, Georgia. These women and others encouraged 
young Mary McLeod to act upon a deeply rooted missionary inclination. Particularly critical in 
her development was imbibing the character of an exemplary educational institution by living in 
one: the all-girls boarding school, Scotia Seminary, which during her impressionable sojourn 
there was headed by the influential Dr. David J. Satterfield. And finally, she developed a 
cosmopolitan orientation of sorts while at the Chicago Bible School through contact with people 
from around the world. 20 

Based upon this foundation, Mary McLeod Bethune's life became one of public service. 



10 
Her husband, Albertus Bethune (1870-191 8), her only biological son Albert McLeod Bethune, 
Sr. (1899-1989), and her first grandson Albert McLeod Bethune, Jr. (1921-), had to take in stride 
this dedication to public service. From the small elementary school she had started in 1904, 
Bethune established Bethune-Cookman College, in Daytona Beach, Florida. In the 1930's, as 
director of the Negro Division of the National Youth Administration, she was the highest 
ranking black woman in the history of government. Through it she succored youth on an 
unprecedented scale with social services, educational grants, vocational training and 
government-facilitated jobs. Concurrently, she was a leader at large, in part by organizing and 
sustaining the mostly male Federal Council on Negro Affairs, popularly dubbed the Black 
Cabinet. This enabled the few black professionals in government to render greater service to the 
race. Moreover, Bethune conceived and nursed along the National Council of Negro Women, 
black women's first council of national organizations. 

In relation to NCNW, Bethune understood that black women had to take the initiative, and 
do so consistently to enhance their status. Nobody else could be depended upon to push them into 
public affairs, even though black men, white men, and white women ail assisted at times, just as 
they ignored them at times. Consider examples of the latter. In 1935, when Howard University 
President Mordecai Johnson submitted to the director of the National Youth Administration a list 
of seventeen possible black consultants and employees, not one race sister appeared. 21 Given 
that, perhaps it should not be surprising that nine years later, when the White House approached 
Paul McNutt, chief of the War Manpower Commission, about a position for the unsalaried 
Bethune, he acquiesced to giving her a job—which she declined—but emphatically stated that she 
could not occupy the top position for blacks because that belonged to a man, preferably from the 



11 

North or Middle West. 22 And, only some times were white and black women allies, for after 
white women gained admission to the female navy, marines, and coast guard in the early 1 940's, 
for instance, the chief organizational advocates of women in the military--the American 
Association of University Women and the National Federation of Business and Professional 
Women's Clubs-remained silent as black women fought for years to enter those military 
services. 23 

To consistently fight for blacks on race-gender issues, Bethune envisioned a coalition of 
all African American women's organizations. It was to permanently insert ebony women into 
local, national and international discourse and actions in both government and non-government 
affairs. NCNW was to give constituents visibility and voice in local communities, mainstream 
America, and the world. It was to facilitate their working with women of all colors, races, and 
nations on common matters. As did its founder, the organization combined concern for both race 
and gender, without castigating black men, which made it a womanist body. Bethune was certain 
that her brand of womanist leadership could speak authoritatively in the nation's capital, as the 
New Deal exercised an unprecedented influence over American life, due to the exigencies of the 
Great Depression. 

Materializing under less than enthusiastic circumstances, still the National Council of 
Negro Women became a fact at a meeting Bethune convened on December 5, 1935, in New York 
City. Out of approximately forty national organizations eligible to join the proposed body, only 
three or four sent representatives authorized to commit to a new organization. Other than 
Bethune, only six of the thirty women present lived outside New York City. Two came from 
nearby Orange, New Jersey, and Jamaica, New York, respectively. The others were long-time 



12 
Bethune associates in womanist leadership: educator Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Sedalia, North 
Carolina; real estate broker and reformer Addie Dickerson, Philadelphia; civil rights reformer 
Daisy Lampkin, Pittsburgh; and writer-lecturer and educator Mary Church Terrell, Washington, 
DC. But even they appeared lukewarm founding mothers. Nonetheless, struck by Bethune's 
stellar achievements, vision, and ardor for the cause, all present voted to create a permanent 
council with Bethune as president. At the time, that was all the charismatic Floridian needed. 24 

Within two and a half years Bethune had propelled the council to the forefront of female 
race organizations in the national life of the country. Of prime importance was a White House 
Conference held April 4, 1938, made possible through the assistance of First Lady Eleanor 
Roosevelt. Black women presented a fresh image of themselves, putting the government on 
notice that they, too, were America; that they were prepared to contribute to planning and 
administering federal programs. From that point on, through vigilance, cooperation, and protest, 
the NCNW went from one hard-fought victory to another. 

The event which opened the door to its routine participation in federally sponsored 
activity for women was the War Department's 1941 decision to include the organization in the 
Women's Advisory Council to its Women's Interest Section, a public relations unit for women. 
Around this time, the essentially white National Council of Women of the United States, a 
voluntary non-governmental body, extended membership to the NCNW as well. In these and 
other ways, the NCNW became the acknowledged representative of ebony women. This meant 
that whites in the Roosevelt Administration gave attention to NCNW-espoused concerns, which 
included federal employment, voting, anti-lynching, housing, health, education, the military and 
internationalism. Even if the attention were essentially symbolic rather than substantive, it was 



13 
more than government had previously measured out to race sisters. 

The government's response, in turn, encouraged growth and the internal elaboration of the 
NCNW structure, including local chapters, a regional organizational tier, a respected quarterly, a 
monthly newsletter, a headquarters building, and a professional staff assisted by numerous 
volunteers. During World War II, this apparatus promoted patriotism. The organization gladly 
took on more responsibility to insure an Allied victory. Towards the end of the war and 
afterwards, the council shared in the peace building process, particularly through United Nations- 
related activities. In November 1949, as Bethune's presidency culminated, the NCNW counted 
twenty-three national affiliates. They were professional and occupational groups, both broadly 
based and subject-restricted academic sororities, church denominational societies, fraternal 
associations, auxiliaries, and assorted other organizations. Additionally it had eighty-four 
metropolitan (local) councils in twenty-six states, and numerous life members. "No one but a 
Bethune could have carried out the idea of gathering Negro women into a national body," a 
council sister averred. "No one but a Bethune with unearthly power to sway human beings like 
the wind~and play on their heartstrings as if they were violin strings—so that the tune played hit 
the right notes— could have gone as afar as she has." 

While Bethune was on the scene, the NCNW was "filled to the brim with topflight women 
of all ages." 25 Bethune mentored many of the younger women, including alternate United 
Nations delegate Edith S. Sampson, physician and educator Dorothy B. Ferebee, social service 
administrator Vivian Carter Mason, educational administrator Arenia C. Mallory, and 
businesswoman Marjorie Stewart Joyner. Hundreds of other women who were considered 
effective leaders in the 1950's, came under Bethune's influence, according to Congressman Adam 



14 
Clayton Powell. Henrine Ward Banks of Chicago acknowledged to Bethune that she was one. 
"You have given many of us a grand foundation, on which we are going to continue to build," she 
wrote. "You have helped us to think and plan in a big way, big things so that each of us in our 
small way can make a worth-while contribution, for which many of us are grateful." 26 

Mary McLeod Bethune was tendered many such accolades when she vacated the NCNW 
presidency. Afterwards, she continued to speak and raise funds for the organization, and in other 
ways assist successive NCNW chiefs Dorothy Boulding Ferebee and Vivian Carter Mason. 
Under the leadership of all three presidents, the council made great strides in empowering black 
women. It enriched the infrastructure of black women networks, multiplied points of positive 
contact between black and white women leaders while segregation reigned, projected a truer 
image of black women and their history, assisted in opening to black women professional 
government employment, made the presence of black women customary at national and 
international affairs, and advanced civil rights as a national issue. 

In retirement, the remarkable Mary McLeod Bethune was as mindful as ever of the 
necessity for women to assist in the advancement of other women. In 1950 she informed Eleanor 
Roosevelt, "I am convinced that men continue to seem not to have the value of the services of 
prepared women. ... I feel more and more that we have got to place more qualified women in 
important places to hold and build the morale." 27 Believing "there were no limits to what a 
woman might do if she set her heart on it," such ideas were characteristic of Mary McLeod 
Bethune, who accurately described herself as a "leader of women." 28 

Notes 



15 



1 . Mary McLeod Bethune, "Americans All: Which Way, America???" in Mary McLeod 
Bethune: Building a Better World— Essays and Selected Documents, ed. Audrey McCluskey and 
Elaine M. Smith (Indiana University Press, 1999), 187. 

2. McCluskey and Smith, ed. Bethune: Building a Better World, 199, source of Myrdal 
quote; xii, other quote. 

3. Ernest F. Witte to Richard D. Brown, April 16, 1938, National Council of Negro 
Women Papers, Series 4, Box 1, Folder 9, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National 
Historic Site, National Park Service, Washington, D.C. 

4. Elaine M. Smith, "Introduction," Guide to the Mary McLeod Bethune Papers: 
Bethune-Cookman College Collection (Bethesda: University Publications of America, 1995), v- 
vi. 

5. Tarbell, "Fifty Great Ones," Woman 's Journal (new series), 15 (December 1930), 6. 

6. Myrdal, American Dilemma, 816; Catherine Owens Peare, Mary McLeod Bethune 
(New York: Vanguard Press, 1951), 213-214, 167-169; Rackham Holt, Mary McLeod Bethune: 
A Biography (Garden City, N.Y: 1964), 181-185, 265-266; Bettye Collier-Thomas, The National 
Council of Negro Women, 1935-1980 (Washington, D.C: National Council of Negro Women), 1- 
7. Additional data on Bethune and the Council in published secondary sources include Paula 
Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America 
(New York: William Morrow, 1984); Tracey A. Fitzgerald, The National Council of Negro 
Women and the Feminist Movement, 1935-1975 (Washington, D.C: Georgetown University 
Press, 1985); Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy A Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 
1894-1994 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1999). 

7. "The 50 Most Important Figures in U.S. Black History," Ebony (February 1989), 176. 

8. Bethune, "My Last Will and Testament," in Bethune: Building a Better World, ed. 
McCluskey and Smith, 58-61; for an analysis of Bethune's document see Elaine M. Smith, "Mary 
McLeod Bethune's Last Will and Testament: A Legacy for Race Vindication," Journal of Negro 
History, 81 (1996), 105-122. 

9. Proceedings of Annual Meeting, November 26, 1938, 39, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 
1, Folder 4; Final Report of the National Youth Administration (Washington: Government 
Printing Office, 1943), 235. 

10. Bethune, "Opening Statement to the Second National Conference on the Problems of 
the Negro and Negro Youth," in Bethune: Building a Better World, ed. McCluskey and Smith, 
232-233. 



16 



11. Peter M. Bergman, The Chronological History of the Negro in America (New York: 
Mentor Books, 1969), 486-487. 

12. Elaine M. Smith, "Introduction: From '1939 Honor List' to 'An Inspiration for All 
Time,"' Guide to the Mary McLeod Bethune Papers: The Bethune Foundation Collection, Part 3 
(Bethesda: University Publications of America, 2002), v. 

13. Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started 
// (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987), 135-136. 

14. McCluskey and Smith, Bethune: Building a Better World, 131. 

15. Bethune quoted from "Closed Doors," in Bethune: Building a Better World, ed. 
McCluskey and Smith, 208. 

16. See for example, Smith, "Introduction," Guide to the Bethune Papers, B-CC 
Collection, vi. 

17. Sidney Strong, "American Notes," Unity (December 16, 1929), Mary McLeod 
Bethune Papers, Amistad Research Center, Tulane University; The Reminiscences of John W. 
Davis, 1976, 312-313, in the Oral History Collection of Columbia University. 

18. Constance McLaughlin Green, The Secret City: A History of Race Relations in the 
Nation 's Capital (Princeton, N.J., 1967), 237; Holt, Bethune, 1, 10. 

19. Bethune, "My Last Will and Testament," 61 ; The Statistics of the Population of the 
United States (Washington: Government Printing Office), 407. 

20. See, for example, Elaine M. Smith, "Federal Archives as a Source for Determining 
the Role of Mary McLeod Bethune in the National Youth Administration," in Afro- American 
History: Sources for Research, ed. Robert L. Clarke (Washington: Howard University Press, 
1981), 47-49. 

21. Mordecai Johnson to Aubrey Williams, [1935], Aubrey Williams Papers, Box 12, 
Advisory Committee, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York. 

22. Grace Tully to Franklin D. Roosevelt, February 12, 1944, Office of the President, File 
5393, FDRL. 

23. Susan M. Hartman, The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940's 
(Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982), 31-32, 45-46, 147-148. 

24. "Minutes of the Organizational Meeting of the National Council of Negro Women," 



17 
in Bethune: Building a Better World, ed. McCluskey and Smith, 168-173. 

25. Quotes from Toki S. Johnson, "Toki Types," Pittsburgh Courier, November 27, 1948, 
8. 

26. Powell's observations were made in Earl Devine Martin, "Mary McLeod Bethune: A 
Prototype of the Rising Consciousness of the American Negro," (M.A. thesis, Northwestern 
University, 1956), 86; Henrine Ward Banks to Bethune, August 21, 1948, BF, Part 2, Reel 14. 

27. Bethune to Eleanor Roosevelt, July 1 1, 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Bethune File, 
Box 3834, FDR Library. 

28. Quote from Vivian Carter Mason in an interview with Barbara Grant Blackwell in 
Barbara Grant Blackwell, "The Advocacies and Ideological Commitments of a Black Educator: 
Mary McLeod Bethune, 1875-1955," (Ph.D. dissertation: University of Connecticut, 1979), 191. 



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19 



PART I. BECOMING A COMPELLING PRESENCE 
THE NEW DEAL AND BEYOND 



Chapter 1 
March Towards Empowerment 

Introduction 

Chicago Defender's Venice Tipton Spraggs had broken the color line in Theta Sigma 
Phi, the professional and honorary fraternity for women journalists. Alma J. Ulery had organized 
National Achievement Clubs to extend knowledge of and aspirations towards black achievement 
and originated George Washington Carver Day. Charlotte Hawkins Brown had founded and 
presided over Palmer Memorial Institute, "a little bit of New England in North Carolina." In 
the 1940s, daughters of a people once enslaved strode forward! Transformed by World War n, 
some were distinguishing themselves in the military, education, art, theater, screen and radio, 
music, literature, journalism, court litigation, social welfare, and political activity. This was 
during the era when "separate but equal" reigned, meaning that virtually everything was separate 
and nothing, equal. In 1948, seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court repudiated racial 
segregation in the Brown Decision, research-writer Jessie P. Guzman, reporting facts on ebony 
women, asserted that they "have reached out into the larger community and have affected the 
Negro as a race, the American people as a nation, and even the international scene." 

Interestingly, the National Council of Negro Women honored or counted as members a 
significant number of the seven dozen luminaries Guzman cited in "The Social Contributions of 



20 
the Negro Woman Since 1940." Especially does this apply to political activity. In California, 
Pauli Murray served as Assistant Attorney General. In New York City, Jane Bolin presided over 
a Court of Domestic Relations, the first and only black female judge in the country. And, in 
Washington, Thomasina W. Johnson, previously acclaimed as the first full-time black 
Washington lobbyist, headed the Minority Groups Section of the U.S. Employment Service, 
located in the Department of Labor. While these professionals revolved somewhat in the 
NCNW orbit, Jessie Guzman's political activists included five proven NCNW stalwarts: Sara 
Pelham Speaks, an attorney who had been the first black woman to run for the New York 
legislature; Eunice Hunton Carter, Assistant District Attorney in New York; Edith Sampson, 
Assistant State's Attorney in Chicago; Sadie T.M. Alexander, an appointee to the U.S. 
President's precedent-setting Committee on Civil Rights; and Mary McLeod Bethune, college 
founder and former president, the highest ranking African American in the New Deal, leader at 
large during the administrations of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the founder- 
president of the NCNW. "Mrs. Bethune," Guzman remarked, "is or has been connected with 
almost every movement for the advancement of the Negro." At that time, she promoted 
advancement primarily through the NCNW, an umbrella body for national organizations of black 



women. ' 



This chapter highlights the NCNW vis-a-vis Bethune chiefly from inception into its first 
three years. More specifically, it discusses the NCNW with regard to the following: original 
goals; appropriateness of non-traditional typologies; circumstances in the 1930s forming the 
context for its establishment; creating the new organization; the first two years relative to 
acceptance and visible activity; and finally, the 1938 event that encouraged the government and 



21 
black America to take note of the new player in national affairs. 

Objectives 

In July 1936, at the time of incorporation, the NCNW had four objectives, which while 
sometimes restated differently and to which others would be added, remained basic to the 
organization from 1935 to 1955, the time frame of this study. The first dealt with the council's 
uniqueness as an organization of organizations. It aimed "to federate organizations of every type 
among the women of the race in one gigantic body," as the Christian Advocate, organ of the 
Methodist Episcopal Church, once stated. 2 Although never corralling all targeted groups, still 
this super council claimed representative numbers. Numerical strength was crucial to attaining 
the power it aspired to exercise in public affairs. In 1937, Bethune projected a million 
members. 3 The next year, she toned it down considerably by tangling before council women a 
hypothetical membership of 500,000. She truly believed that a National Council representing 
"five hundred thousand thinking, leading women of all. . . the states of the Union" could impact 
national life. Therefore, it's no surprise that the NCNW always endeavored "to unite member 
organizations." The council could permit nothing to block a working relationship with national 
affiliates, for therein lay the numbers. 4 

Its character as an alliance of national organizations made the NCNW a natural for 
fulfilling its second purpose: collecting, classifying, and distributing information regarding or 
significantly impacting organized African American women. This clearinghouse function was 
integral to the council. From the late 1940s it appeared in the organization's Constitution and 
By-Laws as follows: "To collect, interpret, disseminate and preserve information about and 
particularly affecting women." 5 



22 
The NCNW's emphasis upon clearinghouse and unifying purposes may be viewed as 

ends towards a mean; namely, achieving empowerment for a people whose status was inferior in 
American society, as its other objectives suggest. The NCNW's 1936 charter declares as its 
third purpose, "To educate and encourage Negro women to participate in civic, political, 
economic, and educational activities in the same manner as other Americans participate." 
Unstated was the presumption that black sisters would do so both for themselves and for others; 
also, that they would use varying approaches: black solidarity, integration, both the 
forementioned, or something in between. Closely related to objective three was the NCNW's 
goal of sponsoring projects. "To initiate and promote, subject to the approval of member 
organizations, projects for the benefit of the Negro," was the wording of the council charter. A 
decade later the expression of this had mushroomed. The NCNW was "to provide a channel and 
articulation for the millions of Negro women of this country in their struggle for opportunity and 
equality." The "struggle for opportunity and equality" had to be waged primarily in the larger 
society. To this the NCNW was dedicated. 6 
Non-Traditional Typologies 

Womanist Consciousness 
In November 1936, with the National Council approaching its first birthday, Mary 
McLeod Bethune beckoned women to its second annual meeting in New York. Especially with 
Bethune's full time Washington work in government and full time Florida work at her college, at 
the time, the council was still in a state of becoming a functioning national organization. 
Acquainting the country with its aims, Bethune's preliminary call to the council parley targeted 
women, but emphasized aspirations that some have overlooked. Women were to unite "to fight 



23 
the battle of the Negro masses and promote their integration into the fabric of the American 

democracy;" they were "to function in thought and action for the entire race and nation;" and 

"speak as one voice and one mind for the highest good of the race." Bethune was so interested 

in all understanding that, although the council focused on the female status simultaneously it 

improved the race and nation, that she said race and nation twice. Using "sonorous and 

enthusiastic phrases," on "the place in Negro and American life" that the council might occupy, 

Bethune briefed a reporter as follows. 

There is today a most intense need for the Negro women 
of America to stand shoulder to shoulder in solid phalanx to 
fight the battle of the Negro masses and promote their 
integration into the fabric of the American democracy. . . I am 
vividly aware of the great need for the strength of organization 
and of the great opportunity for constructive work and leadership. 

The National Council of Negro women, comprising the 
membership of the national organizations of the women of 
America for the purpose of collective coordination to function 
in thought and action for the entire race and nation, has a field 
of service today that has never been heretofore offered. Under 
sincere and competent generalship, our national life has 
awakened to an alert social consciousness and the first 
challenging streaks of a new day for the underprivileged masses 
break across the horizon. 

Late in December, we plan a conference dinner in New 
York City. . . where we hope the flower of American Negro 
womanhood will dine and think together, will plan, discuss, 
and finally adopt a workable constitution, and go out to work 
together in the highways and the byways for our race and for our 
nation. 

There is ; big business' ahead for the National Council 
of Negro Women, giving a chance to all national bodies of women, 
young and old, to pool their thinking and all together speak as one 
voice and one mind for the highest good of the race 1 



24 
Even though in fact, as the preceding suggests, Bethune and the National Council 
included the welfare of the masses, the race, and nation, as well as black women within the 
scope of their services, one scholar contends, "The Council made black women, not black 
families or black communities, the hub of their program." More specifically, historian Deborah 
Gray White argues that during the early years, the National Council privileged gender over race. 
"Under Bethune black women's distinct needs took precedence. . . . Under [NCNW President 
Dorothy] Height, general concerns of the race became a priority. . ." Interestingly, historian 
Tracey A. Fitzgerald charges the opposite. "In its early years, however, the NCNW gave primary 
consideration to concerns about the racism of America," she writes, " and Bethune also seemed 
to consider the NCNW's primary battle to be against the oppression of blacks. ... It was not 
until after Bethune' s death in 1955 that the NCNW began to work for the advancement of all 
women and youth at a level of commitment equal to its work for racial equality." 8 

Of the two positions, Deborah White's assertions that Bethune and the council 
emphasized gender over race challenge the most popular assumptions about Bethune. 
Occupying the center of the Civil Rights Struggle of her era, Bethune, as Jessie Guzman had 
recounted in 1948, was "connected with almost every movement for the advancement of the 
Negro." More than a decade earlier, columnist Edward Lawson had reported in the same vein. 
She "gathered everything and everybody under her very ample wing," meaning the most 
representative black leaders in and out of government, to create a collective agenda for federal 
action to ameliorate the disadvantaged status of blacks in American life. This federally- 
sponsored conference on "The Problems of the Negro and Negro Youth," was facilitated by the 
Federal Council on Negro Affairs, better known as the Black Cabinet, which Bethune had 



25 
organized. After the conference, contemporary scholar-columnist Kelly Miller observed then 

and later that Bethune was the logical successor to race leader Booker T. Washington, who died 

in 1915. "She is acceptable to the white people of the South, the white people of the North, the 

Negro himself, and the government authorities to a degree and extent not equaled since the 

mantle of leadership fell from the shoulders of the great Tuskegeean," he declared. A half 

century later, a distinguished panel of black scholars ranked Bethune's race leadership with that 

of Frederick Douglass, WEB. DuBois, and Martin Luther King. 9 This leads to a question: 

conceding, as most informed people have done, that in the early years, the NCNW was Bethune 

and vice versa, how could the council NOT embrace race and gender issues seamlessly, without 

prioritizing them, just as Bethune did? 

When considering both the contentions of Deborah White and Tracey Fitzgerald relative 
to the rank order Bethune and the NCNW assigned to race and gender, it is evident that they take 
for granted the separability of race and gender in the experiences of black women. They view 
them making history as women or making history as blacks, but not making history as black 
women. This is unreal. At the 1936 NCNW session in New York, for example, Bethune urged 
black women to "get behind legislation and matters of public interest which affect the Negro as 
a whole and Negro women in particular." Continuing, she advised them, "to make their proper 
contributions to all matters affecting women as a whole, regardless of race." 10 

The ideas of historian Elsa Barkley Brown regarding historians who have delimited race 
and gender in specific African American women's experiences are appropo. The historians gave 
in "to the tendency to assume that black women's lives can be neatly subdivided, that while we 
are both black and female, we occupy those roles sequentially," Brown disputes, "as if one 



26 
cannot have the two simultaneously in one's consciousness of being. Such a framework assumes 
a fragmentation of black women's existence that defies reality." Moreover, Brown continues, 
"What they fail to consider is that women's issues may be race issues, and race issues may be 
women's issues." From this perspective, Bethune and the council's drive for the employment of 
black women in the federal bureaucracy was as much a race issue as their lobby for equitable 
funding in the separate white and black schools was a women's issue. Dichotomous thinking 
separating sex and ethnicity in the lives of race sisters, as Elsa Brown elucidates, stemmed from 
dropping "black women inside feminist perspectives which, by design, have omitted their 
experiences," particularly in determining what are "women's issues and women's struggles." 
Since feminism places a priority on women and black solidarity places it on race, increasingly 
students of the African American woman's experience are using the term womanism to embrace 
both concepts. Womanism is "a consciousness that incorporates racial, cultural, sexual, 
national, economic, and political considerations." It seeks "sexual equality in the black 
community plus the world power structure that subjugates both blacks and women." 11 Under 
Bethune' s leadership, council members acted on race and gender problems in a holistic context. 
They possessed a womanist consciousness. 

Integrated Autonomy 
In addition to a womanist consciousness, members of the NCNW approached their issues 
with the ideology of integrated autonomy. Just as womanist consciousness incorporates in 
particular two considerations-gender and race—that too often are seen as either-or, so does 
integrated autonomy. It combines black self-determination with integration, mirroring the 
duality of being both a black and an American. For Bethune and her organization, neither black 



27 
self-determination alone nor integration alone was enough to achieve equality. Since she 

melded the two, some have thought her a chameleon. She was not. Historian Christopher E. 

Linsin emphasizes the consistency of Bethune's leadership, using the concept of integrated 

autonomy. He elucidates it in relation to her below. 

A strong and consistent advocate of racial uplift through 
industrial education and hard work, Bethune embraced Booker 
T. Washington's educational perspectives and his advocacy of 
racial pride and group solidarity. Also sympathetic toward the 
position held by Washington's ideological nemesis, William 
Edward Burghardt Du Bois, Bethune embraced notions of racial 
empowerment by seeking both black social autonomy and full 
integration into the white economic community. Melding the 
philosophies of both Washington and Du Bois, Mary McLeod 
Bethune embraced an ideological position that sought to resolve 
America's pressing problem of racial inequality. Her position on 
race relations, best described as integrated autonomy, was well 
suited for the turbulent 1930s and 1940s. 12 

Certainly, integrated autonomy covers both the language and actions of Bethune and the 
NCNW. But they called it simply integration. For example, in Bethune's Pittsburgh Courier 
column in 1937 titled "Integration and Participation," she explained, "My gospel is now, as it 
always has been, the weaving of Negro life and activities into the warp and woof of the fabric of 
American life." Here she recognized that blacks would continue to maintain a group life and 
simultaneously have that group life integrated into mainstream life. 13 In a sense Bethune and the 
NCNW roughly equated integration with moving towards greater black empowerment in a 
society progressing towards desegregation. More specifically, they defined integration in two 
seemingly contradictory ways. One was conventional, a single program or situation for whites 
and blacks without regard to race; the other, a separate one based on race when the option for 
blacks meant much less, provided that blacks possessed equitable resources and control over 



28 
their program or situation. Some may describe the latter understanding of integration as separate 
equality, the immediate goal of the NAACP in the 1930s for litigating to equalize teacher 
salaries and school facilities in southern public schools. The intransigency of racial segregation 
buttressed by law made little else possible. 14 

While separate equality may describe an aspect of integrated autonomy, it should not be 
confused with segregation. Bethune never advocated that. As Linsin insists, "Bethune emerged 
a strong and consistent proponent of full integration into the American system while advocating 
black civil rights leadership." In this stretched context of integration, better stated as integrated 
autonomy, Bethune discussed in a 1938 NCNW gathering the exclusion of black polio victims 
from the therapeutic waters of Hot Springs, Arkansas and Warm Springs, Georgia, the latter 
made famous by FDR's visits. "We [African Americans] are going to have a Warm Springs 
somewhere else," she vowed to council members, "where we are going to get our share of the 
money in putting in of these Negro leaders over these several states of the Union [for such 
facilities]. In that same meeting, Charlotte Brown assailed the exclusion of blacks in 
mainstream life also within the context of integrated autonomy. "We are asked to contribute 
money for the Red Cross and, while its personnel consumes a great deal of money, there is not 
one paid colored worker," she fumed. "We have got to get into this field. We must get into 
everything as a part of it, to share all the benefits as well as give advice." Bethune rejoined, "I 
am sure what she has said is definitely the object of the National Council." 15 

Just as council women stretched the use of integration to mean black leadership over 
blacks in a separate equality, more frequently they used it in the conventional sense of locating 
African Americans, particularly women, into mainstream activity. The term integrated 



29 
autonomy subsumes this also. As to actually integrating organizations constructively engaged, 

the NCNW was explicit. It was "to participate whenever possible and in every acceptable way 

with organizations having few or no Negroes as members." Such action possessed the potential 

for two-fold rewards. The first was "to bring back to Negro women the thinking and planned 

action of these groups." The other was to permit those organizations to discover the 

considerable "strength and talent" of black women by working with them. If these organizations 

were attempting to represent women as a group, they actually required black women's 

participation to achieve "the complete material and spiritual unity of women." 16 

Regardless of council members' use of integration, whether conventionally or as 

integrated autonomy, inclusion of it in their pledge inspired many with the promise of America. 

As repeated time and again in the 1940s, it read as follows. 

To make a lasting contribution to all that is finest and best 
in America, so that her heritage of freedom and progress will 
be infinitely enriched by the integration of Negroes into the 
economic, social, cultural, civic, and political life of this 
country and thus achieve the glorious destiny of a true and 
unfettered democracy. I7 

Context 

As the Great Depression blanketed the 1930s, every man, woman and child in the United 
States felt its impact. Already in depression before the Stock Market Crash of '29, many African 
Americans experienced hardship on top of hardship. In 1934, the government determined that 
38 percent of African Americans were no longer capable of supporting themselves, compared to 
17 percent of white Americas so classified. Both men and women suffered together. But 
traceable to the intertwining of race, gender, and employment, African American women 
occupied the farthest fringes of opportunity, civic participation, and economic security. While 



30 
the nature of their jobs constituted but one dimension of their status, economic considerations 
trumped most others in the Depression decade. 

Necessity had driven a much greater percentage of race sisters into the labor market than 
the percentage of their white counterparts. Whereas between 10 and 30 percent of white women 
usually worked outside their homes, typically about 50 percent of black women did. Yet unlike 
white women, they benefitted hardly at all from structural changes in the economy, which were 
creating more jobs in sales, communications, clerical work, and other white collar areas. White 
America deemed ebony women unworthy of such employment. This translated into fewer than 5 
percent of race sisters in white collar jobs. That being the case, certainly black America counted 
relatively few teachers, nurses, and other such professionals. Nine out often working black 
women did so as farm laborers or domestic servants, frequently finding employment only 
seasonally or part-time. Black women picked cotton and toiled in other back-breaking field 
work, many with threat of eviction dogging them, for neither they nor their families usually 
owned the land. Black women domestic servants often knew insecurity too, either because 
employers could sometimes no longer afford them, or the necessity to increasingly compete with 
white women desperate to make a little money. Moreover, the very nature of domestic 
employment was rife with abuse. A different set of abuses usually awaited the tiny percentage 
of black women who found industrial jobs. More often than not, supervisors assigned them to 
the dirty work that white women refused in commercial laundries, slaughterhouses, and the 
garment industry. But regardless of the nature of jobs most black sisters found-whether on 
farms or in households and service establishments or in industries-- when they lost them, and 
consequently sought relief-aid, unsympathetic welfare officials routinely denied the applications 



31 
of many simply because they were black women. And if their requests were honored, typically 

the grants were smaller than to whites. 18 

At a time when women of color sorely needed to address employment and other national 

issues pertaining to their status, the National Association of Colored Women, composed chiefly 

of those with education and stable economic situations, retreated from the challenges of 

leadership. Although sending messages to public officials on issues close to them at least 

biennially, the vision for this foremost African American women's organization espoused by 

President Sallie W. Stewart, a public school teacher and realtor from Evansville, Illinois, 

paralleled its downsizing. Twenty-two major departments, reflecting the extensive interests of 

the membership, collapsed into two-one was the Mother, Home and Child; the other, Negro 

Women in Industry. Concentrating primarily on the former, the NACW held that the 

deficiencies of African Americans were entirely within the home. Sadly out of touch with 

reality, the Association undermined its historic role of representing black women in public 

affairs and experienced a marked diminution in means to do so. 19 

Against this backdrop of both a regressive NACW and the declining status of race sisters, 

Mary McLeod Bethune, a former NACW chief, called for a united front of black women in 

public affairs through a federation of organizations. In the sense that national issues and 

national identity would claim a larger share of members' consciousness, contends Deborah Gray 

White, as opposed to local self-help projects, Bethune proposed a council in the ideological 

image of the International Council of Women of the Darker Races and the National Republican 

Colored Woman's League. She had helped to establish both. They were "two of the first new 

black middle-class women's organizations." 20 Bethune's conceptual council allowed for all 



32 
organizations of black women to become a collectivity, and thereby exercise considerably 
greater influence in behalf of black women, the race, and the nation. If established, she claimed 
also that it will "make for unity of opinion among Negro women who must do some thinking on 
public questions; it will insure greater cooperation among women in varied lines of endeavor; 
and it will lift the ideals not only of the individual organizations, but of the organizations as a 
group." 21 

Certainly Bethune had a viable case for a new black women's federation. Still, this 
"organization of organizations" owed much also to Bethune' s will to lead and to dominate— 
attributes virtually essential for operating an unendowed, private black school in a Southern 
racist environment prior to the 1960s. Former National Association presidents Margaret Murray 
Washington and Mary B. Talbert seemingly manifested these same traits, for after their NACW 
tenures, the former founded the International Council of Women of the Darker Races; the latter, 
the Anti -Lynching Crusaders. In 1928, when Bethune retired from the NACW presidency 
according to its constitutional time limits, it may be argued that her assertive personality, among 
other factors, expressed itself in a move to direct the organization. It took the form of 
appointing Rebecca Stiles Taylor, then her private secretary for NACW concerns and the former 
president of the Georgia Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, as the association's executive 
secretary. Bethune had created this pivotal salaried position. When the Executive Board insisted 
that the incoming president had the authority to appoint an executive secretary of her choosing— 
and certainly it would not be the experienced and highly competent Rebecca Taylor, for she was 
in the Bethune wing of the Association-right then and there Bethune probably envisioned her 
own national organization. 22 



33 
Bethune' s idea of a National Council of Colored Women stemmed from energetic 
participation in an essentially white women's national council. In fact, concerning Bethune's 
would-be organization the Christian Advocate observed, "This council would function among 
colored women somewhat as the National Council of Women functions among white women 
largely." Developed in 1888 during the women's suffrage campaign and initially directed by the 
likes of Frances E. Willard and Susan B. Anthony, supposedly this body was open to any 
organization of women "of undoubtedly national character." The member affiliates retained 
autonomy, however, for the council disclaimed any power to influence them "beyond suggestion 
and sympathy." 23 By invitation, African American women had joined through their National 
Association in 1901, and prized the affiliation. While Mary Bethune, a life member of the 
council, fully appreciated its value, she fully appreciated also its tokenism. "We have, existing, 
of course, the National Council of Women of America [the United States]," she explained to 
potential members of her conceptual organization, "but this council is made up of thirty-eight 
national women's organizations, only one of which is a Negro organization. This does not give 
our other splendid national organizations of colored women chance to work out, the one with the 
other, the many problems which face us as a group." 24 

Creating the New Organization 

Having justified a need for a black women's council, Bethune called for its organization 
on March 22, 1930, at her beloved Bethune-Cookman College, in Daytona Beach, Florida, a 
beautiful city catering to upscale northern tourists, located on the Atlantic coast about a hundred 
miles south of Jacksonville. Out of the sixty-four individuals Bethune invited~forty-six 



34 
presidents of national organizations and eighteen other personages-twenty attended, including 
Maggie Lena Walker, bank president in Richmond; Mamie Williams of Savannah, Republican 
National Committee-woman for Georgia; and Jennie Booth Moten, educator and wife of 
Tuskegee Principal Robert Russa Moten. Participants hailed from seven states: Florida sent ten; 
Georgia, three; Alabama, three; Virginia, two; and New York and Illinois, one each. These 
women failed to create a council. Instead, they empowered a committee to study and advertise 
the council concept. Bethune, the chair, was to inform all national groups about it, "requesting 
that they consider the matter in their next annual meeting or convention, or next executive 
meeting, and arrange to send their decisions through representatives or otherwise to an 
organization meeting to be held at a later date at some central point." Bethune 's high hopes 
were dashed! 25 

Yet five years later, on Thursday, December 5, 1935, at the 137 th Street Branch of the 
Young Women's Christian Association in New York, Bethune presided over a three and a half- 
hour luncheon meeting to consider again her conceptual federation. Only then, instead of 
describing it as colored, she used the term Negro to reflect race pride and solidarity, as well as 
"a rejection of the color/class hierarchy" existing in early twentieth century black America. 26 
Bethune's publicizing and promoting had brought to this gathering twenty-nine other women, a 
few as individuals but most as organizational representatives. The names of some groups 
suggested that they were ineligible for council membership because they included both genders 
and/or they were white-controlled. These were the NAACP, YWCA, National Health Service 
for Colored People (the descendent of the Circle for Negro War Relief), National Association 
for Housing, and the National Women's Council of the Department of Racial Relations 



35 
connected with the Federal Council of Churches. Another organization, the Eutopia 

Neighborhood Club, in New York, was strictly local, and thus ineligible too. And given the 

leadership, self-help, and community-based orientations of the National Association of Colored 

Women, its joining up was problematic. 

Even so, ten other organizations would qualify for membership in the proposed super 
council. Four revolved around careers: National Association of Business and Professional 
Women, National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, National Business Women of 
America, and Iota Phi Lambda Sorority (business). Three developed within religious 
denominations: Mite Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, 
National Baptist Women's Organization, and the Women's Auxiliary of the National Baptist 
Convention. Two were broadly-based sororities originating in academe: Alpha Kappa Alpha 
and Delta Sigma Sorority. And one lacked a parallel there, the National Association of College 
Women. Moreover, since their leaders telegramed endorsements for creating a council, it was 
likely that two other organizations would join up: Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, a broadly based 
sisterhood emanating from academe; and the Grand Temple, Daughters of the Improved 
Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World. (IBPOEW). Varied and mixed could best 
describe the organizational representation that was to consider creating the NCNW. 

With much at stake, Bethune articulated her vision. 

Most people think that I am a dreamer. Through dreams many things 
have come true. I am interested in women and believe in their possibilities. 
The world has not been willing to accept the contributions that women 
have made. Their influence has been felt more definitely in the past ten years 
than ever before. We need vision for larger things, for the unfolding and 
reviewing of worth while things. 



36 



Through necessity we have been forced into organizations. The 
fraternal organizations through their groups have made things better for 
communities and this has been wonderful. They have created better leadership 
and have been able to give better service. 

Six years ago I visited a National Baptist Convention. There was 
a large group of reports from crude places, but it showed that they were 
blazing away for better things. No organization has done a greater job for 
womanhood than the National Association of Colored Women. The 
Business and Professional Women have made an enviable record, also the 
sororities with the high ideals. But for the past seven years I have thought 
seriously of all national organizations as well as individuals forming a 
Council of Colored women so that we can make a stronger appeal for 
putting over big projects. 

The National Council of Women has 43 organizations with only one 
Negro organization and we have no specific place on their program. We 
need an organization to open new doors for our young women and when 
the council speaks its power will be felt. For seven years I have been 
dreaming; I have given no publicity to my ideas; I feel that we who are 
present should make the hub and have the national organizations as the 
spokes. It will take work and representation on our part. My appeal to you 
is to begin to think of the big things done by past leadership who dared to 
stand for right and let us fight today with Negro womanhood in mind. If we 
are on the right track let us know. 

In responding to Bethune's challenge, individuals expressed varying views. If not 
negative, some were lukewarm. Charlotte Hawkins Brown contended, "There are too many 
organizations. There is a need for a council or conference but none for an organization." Addie 
Hunton, veteran civil rights and women's rights activist, maintained, "We have got enough 
organizations." Yet countering this, she mused, "This council will give our Negro women a 
status. There is not a great group behind our women to push them." The venerable Mary 
Church Terrell, the first NACW president, concurred: "I do not see how the mistakes made by 
other groups will not be made by this one. ... I cannot see any reason how this group can do 
more than others, but I think it worthwhile." Executive Secretary of the host YWCA Cecelia 



37 
Cabiness Saunders inserted, C T am willing to help but don't feel that the organization is needed." 

Others talked more enthusiastically. "I am very much interested, declared Carita V. 
Roane, manager of the Harlem Branch of the state Department of Labor, "and I think it a 
wonderful thing." A former teacher at Bethune-Cookman, Belle Davis, reflected, "Mrs. Bethune 
has always been on the right track. . . I heartily endorse the movement." Clara Burrill Bruce, 
assistant resident manager of the Paul Lawrence Dunbar Apartments, added, "I am in hearty 
sympathy and feel the time is ripe for such a movement. We have been thinking too long on 
individual problems instead of national ones." Mabel K. Staupers of the National Association of 
Colored Graduate Nurses concluded, "I think that we should have a permanent organization. It 
was not an easy task to have women come here from many cities just to listen to a discussion." 

Finally, when the moment of truth arrived, these women whom Bethune had cajoled and 
implored to attend the meeting, showed themselves loyal to her. Addie Hunton of Alpha Kappa 
Alpha Sorority moved, and Staupers seconded, that the group assembled become a permanent 
organization called the National Council of Negro Women. All present agreed. Next, on a 
motion from Terrell, again unanimously carried, Bethune became its president. The group 
instructed her to plan for the future with a committee. That was all Bethune needed. 27 

Factors of time, place, and leadership accounted for the creation of the National Council 
in 1935, rather than five years earlier. Regarding time, historian Paula Giddings suggests that in 
'35, the failure of the white Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching to endorse the 
Congressional Costigan- Wagner Anti-Lynching Bill may have contributed to the founding of the 
NCNW later in the year. The Jessie Daniel Ames-led ASWLP demonstrated its power 
negatively, by failing to endorse legislation blacks deemed vital, in a year witnessing white 



38 
lynchings of eighteen blacks. This had to have awakened some race sisters to the need for a 
vehicle through which they could wield influence in behalf of timely issues. 28 

More importantly, however, for the timing of the NCNW was the federal government's 
openness to women and blacks as it became involved on an unprecedented scale in the lives of 
ordinary citizens during peacetime. On the women's front, for example, essentially white 
women's groups-among them the AS WPL, the League of Women's Voters, the National 
Women's Trade Union League— were being heard more frequently in the corridors of power. 
Additionally, a noticeable change had occurred in the look of some federal public servants in 
1935, when compared to 1930. Aided and abetted by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, like never 
before the government recruited women for responsible administrative positions. The most 
visible, of course, was the first female cabinet member Frances Perkins of the Labor 
Department. Not only that, but the government recruited also black male professionals for 
newly-created positions, with the Harvard-educated economist Robert Weaver as first. Most 
came as advisers in the Depression-spawn temporary agencies. Nevertheless, they represented 
the return of a black political presence to Washington, which had been lacking since the demise 
of Reconstruction. It seemed to Bethune and some activist friends that the time was ripe for the 
national political scene to accommodate women of color also. 29 

Just as late 1935 was propitious for organizing, New York City was the right place for 
meeting. In that hustling-bnstling "metropolis of the world," as Bethune termed it, with "the 
largest urban group of Negroes anywhere in the world," resided a concentration of progressive 
leaders active in the majority of black distaff organizations. About two-thirds of those creating 
the NCNW lived in Greater New York. By contrast, attendees at the 1930 conference, had 



39 
assembled in a retreat locale. In recommending that the next gathering occur at "some central 

point," they recognized that Daytona Beach was the wrong geography for assembling a 

representative cross-section of female leaders. 30 

Closely related to time and place was leadership. Bethune exercised wiser leadership in 

'35, by wooing more exclusively organizational spokespersons, as opposed to individual women. 

This sharper focus in part doubled to sixteen the national groups represented in New York. The 

NCNW founder, however, not only demonstrated smarter leadership, but enjoyed greater 

leadership stature in 1935. That year President Roosevelt made her one of two black advisers to 

the newly-created National Youth Administration, an agency assisting youth to cope with the 

exigencies of the Depression. Seizing the potential inherent in the thirty-five member Advisory 

Committee, Bethune labored for youth as if she were on the paid staff and in the process 

significantly enhanced her visibility and prestige. Also in 1935, she achieved these intangibles as 

the Spingam Medalist of the NAACP. It bestowed upon her its annual Spingarn Award for the 

most meritorious service to the race. "In the face of almost insuperable difficulties," the NAACP 

announced, she [Bethune] had almost single-handedly established and built up Bethune- 

Cookman College. ..." About five months later at the council's organizational meeting, Bethune 

had the coveted round, gold medallion hooked to a black, red, and gold sash, looped around her 

neck before considering business. 31 The NYA advisory position and Spingarn medal had 

established her leadership independent of the National Association of Colored Women, 

especially for those believing that her bid for a council in 1930 rode the coattails of her 

association presidency in an unseemly way. Thus at mid-decade, along with a viable concept, 

the right time, place, and leadership combined to produce an umbrella council for race women. 



40 
Settling-In 

Bethune could revel little in the realization of a seven-year dream. So many women 
expressed a "so what" attitude. Then the National Council sustained ambivalence and fire, 
carried nationally via the Associated Negro Press (ANP). The immediate past president of the 
National Association, realtor Sallie W. Stewart of Evansville, Indiana, representing hundreds of 
influential women, responded coolly. In the most emphatic tones possible, she announced that 
the Association "shall not be moved" [by the National Council]. Remembering that Bethune had 
first called for a council in 1928, she averred, "I do not believe that in 1935 any more than in 
1928 there is any aim at sabotage against the National Association of Colored Women. There 
may or there may not be necessity for such an organization; in face of the facts, women may 
judge for themselves without hurt or harm to any organization." While Stewart was lukewarm, 
Chicago physician, Mary Fitzbutler Waring, speaking for her constituency, was red hot. This 
National Association sitting president charged that the council grew out of dissatisfaction with 
Charlotte Hawkins Brown's unsuccessful campaign—one that Bethune managed on the floor— for 
the Association's presidency; that the council would in effect sabotage fundraising for the 
Association's heavily encumbered headquarters building purchased during Bethune's 
administration; that the council was unnecessary since sufficient outlets already existed for black 
women's national and international interests; and that the council symbolized the 
institutionalizing of segregation, when African Americans needed integration. 32 

As chair for life of the Association's headquarters trustee board, Bethune responded by 
announcing a new fundraising drive for it. As NCNW president, she rationalized the council as 
"a main channel through which national organizations of Negro women. . . might have a means 



41 
of concentrated thinking and action in the affairs of the country." National Association 

members, greatly divided and having mostly decided about Bethune's leadership earlier, now 
reacted accordingly." Unprecedented actions of Association leaders in the 1930s exacerbated 
divisiveness. By changing the regular Association meeting from 1932 to 1933 to accommodate 
their members attendance at the Chicago World's Fair, they unhinged a delicately balanced 
process, which had fostered a sense of equal regional participation, particularly equal access to 
the presidency. The change in year and place of the scheduled 1932 regular convention 
contributed to holding two successive conventions in the same region in relatively nearby 
locales— in '33 Chicago, and in '35 Cleveland; and the successive election of two presidents 
from neighboring states-Sallie Stewart of Indiana and Waring of Illinois. Previously, the 
presidency and the convention had rotated among the regions. 34 

Had not the Association's Central Region cradled a hotbed of mal-contents relative to 
Bethune's stewardship as NACW president, its domination of the organization from 1928 to 
1937 may have been of small import. But leaders Stewart and Waring, and subsequently many 
followers, never caught Bethune's vision for an expansive Association; one that would 
nationally and internationally "assume an attitude toward all big questions involving the welfare 
of the nation, public right and especially the present and future of our race." Nor had they 
favored headquarters at 1 1 14 O Street in Northwest Washington, were Bethune had established 
it. They wanted headquarters in the Federal Douglass Home in Southeast Washington, whose 
trustee board consisted of clubwomen under an independent charter. Bethune always opposed it 
because the Association could not own or control the Douglas property and, if headquarters were 
there, its officials would be at the mercy of those who did. Certainly, Waring and others 



42 
developed an animus towards Bethune over this, especially when enthusiasm for the O Street 
headquarters abated in the Depression, as did money to pay the mortgage. 35 Consequently, 
Margaret E. Barnes, President of the Ohio Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, had reason to 
lament that when the National Council was organized, "the smouldering fire of discontent 
already burning, burst into an uproaring flame that threatened to consume our very spirit." 
Certainly near the eve of Pearl Harbor, negativity toward Bethune and her new organization 
continued to burn. The women's editor at the Pittsburgh Courier told the "axe-wielders" against 
the council to stop their attacks. About the same time, the Brown American described the 
council as "an organization, which many think was started to weaken the influence of the 
National Association of Colored Women, to which all federated clubs of colored women 
belong." The National Council had much to overcome. 36 

First, however, the council effected organizational necessities: incorporating, writing a 
constitution, and electing officers. It incorporated in Washington, D.C., on July 25, 1936, using 
for an address the office of Howard University's Dean of Women Lucy D. Slowe, whom 
Bethune saw as "an untiring champion of the cause of Negro womanhood." While projecting a 
nation-wide membership, women on the New York- Washington corridor seemingly ran things. 
The important Constitutional Committee consisted of four New Yorkers— Clara Bruce, Carita V. 
Roane, Lillian Alexander and Addie W. Hunton; two Washingtonians, Lucy Slowe and Juanita 
Saddler, the latter a former New Yorker; and a Philadelphian, Addie Dickerson. The committee 
reported to the body on April 29, 1936, at a dinner conference on Howard's campus. At the 
December meeting in New York, after committee chair Lucy Slowe read the document and 
members discussed it, the council adopted the constitution, later called By-Laws. It proved to be 



43 



a work in progress, however, for over the next few years diligent revamping occurred. 37 

The body elected officers in April 1936. All were on the New York- Washington corridor 
except Christine Smith, second vice president from Detroit; and Dr. Eudora Ashburn, third V.P., 
Chicago. Other officers were Bethune, president; Clara Bruce, first V.P.; Mary Church Terrell, 
fourth V.P.; Florence K. Williamson, recording secretary (New York); Lucy Slowe, executive 
secretary; and Addie Dickerson, treasurer. Months later New Yorker Eunice Hunton Carter 
joined this group as parliamentarian. The next year, Clara Bruce replaced Slowe as executive 
secretary due to the latter' s untimely death in October; and Charlotte Hawkins Brown claimed 
Bruce's old office, first V.P. The NCNW possessed a dedicated and stable officer corps, giving 
it constructive continuity over an extended period. 

As 1937 waned, objective facts may have made some wonder if the NCNW was of 
consequence. Less than forty individuals paid a fifty cents registration and voted in the 
December business session. Only Phi Delta Kappa, the teachers' sorority, and the National 
Association of Colored Graduate Nurses paid the $50.00 annual membership for national 
organizations. And only $18.25 lay in the treasury. Nevertheless, the fledgling council had 
proven to be advantageous. 38 President Mary Bethune definitely hit her stride again as chief of a 
national women's society. It was second nature. She lost little time publicizing the NCNW and 
her expectations. In April 1936, she informed the NYA's National Advisory Committee as 



follows. 



May I just state to you that we have organized 
recently, what we term the National Council of Negro Women. 
This council brings into one group all of the national 
organizations of women, educational, fraternal, religious, civic 
and otherwise. We are putting straight before this group 



44 



the importance of this NYA program, and it has been most 
gratifying how the club women, and the fraternal women and the 
church women, through their conferences and through their 
sub-meetings throughout the country, have put into action their 
cooperation and helpfulness in carrying forward this program. 

I believe that the Negro women behind this program [are] 
going to be in the future a very great and influential power. 39 

The organization appeared advantageous also in weighing in before a Congressional 
Committee. On April 9, 1937, speaking for Bethune and herself as officials of the "National 
Council of Negro Women of America," Executive Secretary Lucy Slowe read a well-reasoned 
statement before the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, then considering the Harrison- 
Black Bill for federal aid to public schools (S.419, 75 th Congress). She noted that 80% of almost 
twelve million African Americans live in states which legally mandate separate school systems 
and that in them, as of 1930, an average of $44.31 was spent on a white student and $12.57 on a 
black student. She presented other such comparisons to make the point that the NCNW 
recommended that the Harrison-Black Bill be modified to insure equitable benefits to blacks 
through five amendments, which she then enumerated. Concluding, she urged the committee to 
offer an unfavorable report unless the bill was amended, as suggested. The NCNW believed that 
as currently written, it would perpetuate a grievous discrimination against one-tenth of the U.S. 
population. 

After the formal statement, Slowe took exception to the preceding speaker who testified 
that equalizing the number of days blacks and whites attended school would satisfy the issue of 
racial discrimination. She asserted that it would not, unless money spent for salaries, books, 
equipment, and buildings were equalized as well. Alabama Chairman Hugo Black asked that if 
Congress passed a bill requiring all public school children to attend school 160 days, "would that 



45 
improve the conditions that you have testified about. . . or would it make them worse?" "It 

would certainly improve them," Slowe replied, "but it would not meet all of the situation." Each 

understood the other's point. In that scene, the NCNW had functioned in keeping with the 

mission of inclusion in national affairs. Large-scale federal aid to public schools, however, 

awaited another quarter century. 40 

As the council put down roots, more immediately gratifying than representation before a 

Congressional Committee was the dinner that year at the annual meeting. Held at the Harlem 

"Y," site of its founding, for the first time the organization branched out into day and evening 

sessions, beginning at 10:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. respectively. At the latter, 306 individuals 

attended, with more than 250 others turned away. While the program included several 

dignitaries, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attracted the crowd. Bethune had been able to recruit 

her to speak because of their friendship, forged during the preceding two years around Bethune's 

work in behalf of the National Youth Administration, to which ER gave virtually carte blanche 

support. "We are happy to have present with us," Bethune announced, "the woman who has set 

the standard for unselfish service, deeds of kindness and sympathy, [and] best of all, a state of 

action. I am happy to present Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt." Speaking about fifteen minutes, the 

President's wife emphasized, "That the problem today and every day is a decent standard of 

living for everybody." Bethune remembered that she talked of "our children and how they are to 

be prepared to live in this world and what we can do to help." Afterwards, Columbia University 

student Julia F. Phifer presented to Roosevelt a gorgeous bouquet of roses. As the First Lady 

exited, "smiling and bowing," the audience serenaded, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." Then 

over animated conversation, a delicious dinner was served. 



46 
Satisfyingly, Bethune surveyed all-the other speakers, the unison singing of "Silent 
Night," and men and women dressed in evening finery enjoying each other's company. The 
event would prove a harbinger of even larger inspirational dinner sessions. The Founder- 
President pronounced the occasion glorious. Recounting it for readers of her newspaper column, 
she observed, "We trust that this occasion will serve as a stimulant to the organizations who 
have not yet joined with us to come on in. . . . Write our Executive Secretary, Mrs. Clara Burrill 
Bruce, 209 West 125 Street, New York City." Bethune lost no opportunity to grow the 
NCNW. 41 

One reason for growing the organization was to facilitate the federal employment of 
African Americans. The Great Depression and historic segregation and discrimination consigned 
most of them, particularly women, to the lowest-paying positions even in government. In 1938, 
ninety percent of blacks on the payroll occupied custodial jobs; 9.5 percent, various clerical or 
fiscal jobs; and only 0.5 percent, sub-professional or professional jobs. Supposedly, an obvious 
way to escalate the number of blacks working in government beyond the custodial level was 
Civil Service. It stood at the portal to a great variety of jobs from junior clerk, junior typist, 
assistant messenger, to public health nurse and marine engineer. But Civil Service permitted 
entry to few people of color. In the first place, applicants were identifiable by race, for it 
demanded a photograph and an ethnic designation. Then it permitted bureaucrats to select a 
candidate from a field of three without requiring an explanation. These procedures allowed 
biased federal officials to exercise their biases. In 1938 Bethune had seen enough to move on 
Civil Service discrimination. She directed her Federal Council on Negro Affairs, popularly 
dubbed the Black Cabinet, to that end. But it would not do for a number of highly visible black 



47 
federal workers to be identified publicly with this effort. Therefore as Edgar Brown, Charles 
Craft, R. O'Hara Lanier, Frank Home, and Dutton Ferguson gathered a database to make a case 
against Civil Service, it occurred under the aegis of the NCNW. In this effort Bethune requested 
from Walter White permission for Henry L. Moon to review the NAACP's files for cases of 
discrimination, noting that she was keeping in touch with their Washington Attorney, Charles 
Houston. Seemingly, little came of this activity. While council members continued to view Civil 
Service as an employment route for more people of color, discrimination in that process often 
thwarted qualified black applicants. 42 
Getting on the Map: A White House Conference 

In the spring of 1938 through a White House Conference, the council took a different 
route to employment and in so doing took a big step towards inclusion in the business of the 
republic. It considered the relationship of black women and children to appropriate federal 
programs with regard to their actual participation, the problems of integrating them, and the 
"extent of possible contribution of Negro participation" in administering them. For women like 
Philadelphia attorney Sadie T. M. Alexander, this move was overdo. She thought it perfectly 
reasonable for the government to employ, at minimum, at least as many black female 
administrators as black male. In accepting the conference invitation, she explained to President 
Bethune, "It has for many years pained me to realize that you are the only Negro woman holding 
an executive position in the Federal Government. . . I have never been able to see how the 
Children's Bureau, for example, could operate without the advice and counsel of a competent 
Negro woman." 

In addressing this serious employment issue, the NCNW President pushed unswervingly 



48 
towards a White House Conference. "It took some real thinking and planning to conduct it," 
Bethune related. Firstly, she got on board Washington's chief women's advocate, Eleanor 
Roosevelt, who, about fifteen months earlier, had supported a Bethune national conference—at 
government expense-on the general status of African Americans vis-a-vis the federal 
government. As historian Joyce Ann Hanson explains, probably this 1937 conference further 
sensitized Bethune to the limited public roles of race sisters when cooperating with their male 
counterparts. Even with Bethune in charge, black men, heading all four conference committees, 
dominated the proceedings. To become collectively visible political doers, black women needed 
their own forum to air their own issues with regard to the government. For such a forum, 
Bethune recounted, "I had to go to Mrs. Roosevelt about two months ahead and sit and talk with 
her for an hour on the importance of this so as to bring it there under government surroundings 
and shrouded in governmental setting to give prestige and history to it." Then she had to 
summon NCNW Executive Secretary Clara B. Bruce to Washington for a few days before the 
meeting. Bruce remained afterwards, as well. Especially since Bethune 's NYA commitments 
required her to begin a three-month tour of the West immediately after the event, Bruce' s 
presence proved well justified. 43 

Other preparations for this precedent-setting "Conference on Governmental Cooperation 
in the Approach to the Problems of Negro Women and Children" underscored difficulties black 
women experienced in addressing the social welfare needs of African Americans. White women 
dominated the upper echelons of social agencies in the South, permitting only minuscule 
numbers of black women to advance. Then, too, for years private and public welfare agencies 
had deliberately avoided hiring "trained or even well educated colored women. . . on the theory 



49 
that they would be difficult to manage." Forrester B. Washington, Director of the Atlanta 

School of Social Work, who communicated these observations to Bethune, could not 
recommend for the gathering a single trained black woman in South Carolina and Mississippi, 
partially for these reasons. Of the thirty-one women he suggested, only one, Sadie Gray Mays of 
Howard University, definitely made the parley. Doubtless others were prevented by the absence 
of travel funds. 44 

While social workers may have been few, the White House Conference did not lack 
participants. They appeared as serious citizens, smartly dressed for Washington's chilly air, 
some with furs, gloves, and hats as they stood in front of the old Interior Building on 18 th and E 
Streets, Northwest. Arabella Denniston and Harriet Chaunault [West] of Bethune' s NYA staff 
came; as did her personal supporters in most everything—Cecelia C. Smith of Washington and 
Mamie L. Anderson Pratt, New York City; and to a lesser extent, W. Gertrude Brown, 
Minneapolis. Then, the conference attracted two veteran clubwomen friends from Florida: 
Blanche Beatty Washington, distinguished Tampa educator, then living in Washington; and 
Eartha M.M. White, eminent Jacksonville social worker. Others present who had shared 
Bethune's activism in the National Association of Colored Women extended to its third and first 
presidents, Elizabeth Carter Brooks and Mary Church Terrell, who for the conference 
photograph stood on her left and right respectively. Distinguished National Association 
members from the southeast included Mary C. McCrorey, Charlotte; Lugenia Burns Hope, 
Atlanta; Ora Brown Stokes, Richmond; Margaret Davis Bowen, New Orleans; and Rebecca 
Stiles Taylor of Savannah, then living in Chicago. Other valiant women who knew Bethune 
from their joint National Association activities included Addie W. Dickerson, Philadelphia; 



50 
Lethia C. Fleming, Cleveland; Sarah Lee Fleming, Hartford; Julia West Hamilton, Washington; 
Nannie Reed, Chicago; and Clara B. Bruce, Addie W. Hunton, and Dr. Julia Coleman Robinson, 
New York. 

Those with little visibility in the NACW, who as a group were younger and more 
enthusiastic about the National Council, included Crystal Byrd Fauset and Dr. Sadie T.M. 
Alexander, Philadelphia;; Sue Bailey Thurman and Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, Washington; 
Arenia C. Mallory, Lexington, Mississippi; Bessie Bearden, Dr. Eunice H. Carter, Florence K. 
Norman, Carita V. Roane, and Mabel Keaton Staupers, New York. On April 4, 1938, about 
thirty-five other women joined all those named to constitute sixty-five African American 
conference participants. At least that's the figure printed in contemporary press accounts and 
later, the NCNW's Women United* 5 Nevertheless, Bethune and the NCNW Executive Secretary 
claimed that two more had attended. 

In the morning session at 10:00 a.m., NCNW conferees assembled "to formulate 
suggestions and prayers for presentation" at the 2:00 p.m. session in the East Room of the White 
House. National Council women "were of one mind on the thought of opening up opportunities 
for our qualified Negro women," reported Clara Bruce. After Lethia Fleming prayed movingly, 
"we asked that qualified Negro women~we always put that in—receive appointments, not merely 
because they are black and for that reason alone, but because they have the qualifications and 
because they are closer in touch with the problems of the members of their own group," she 
continued. "So we asked for placement on the planning boards and policy-making boards of the 
various governmental activities and their welfare services." NCNW conferees were requesting 
these things of high echelon government women. Listening were Mary Anderson, Women's 



51 
Bureau; Katharine Lenroot, Children's Bureau; Mary Dewson, Social Security Board; Dr. Louise 
Stanley, Department of Agriculture; Ellen S. Woodward, Works Projects Administration (WPA); 
and Eleanor Roosevelt. 46 

Later, Bethune recalled the conference glowingly: "Sixty-seven Negro women marching 
to the White House in their own right, standing on their feet expressing what they thought 
concerning their own people and the participation they should have in the general affairs of the 
country." "Sixty-seven women sitting down at the White House-the first time in the history of 
the world!" "I was glad to sit aside," she noted, "and see them [young Negro women] stand on 
their feet fearlessly presenting themselves and their thoughts, not coming as beggars, but coming 
as women wanting to participate in the administration of a human program." In fact, sixteen 
women, both young and mature, gave two minute talks on an aspect of the issues considered. 
"We presented the very best we had," Bethune declared, "because this country, you know, only 
knows a few of us, just a few. They don't know us," Bethune waxed on. "We went as one unit 
and the westerners [whites] wanted to know if these were the people of Booker T. Washington. 
Certainly around Washington, we want the people to understand that there are myriads of 
prepared Negro women and we want them to have contact with them and know them." 47 

Less than "myriads of prepared Negro women" aside, the findings of the conference were 
predictable. Still to Kelly Miller they revealed "a genuineness, simplicity and race 
statesmanship," typical of all Bethune's undertakings. Weeks before the meeting, Bethune had 
advised interested parties, "I find that we have very little representation in the administration of. 
and comparatively small integration into" federal programs designed for women and children. 
Conference participants concurred. 48 



52 

Our deliberations have indicated that Negro women and children do not 
participate in federal welfare programs to any extent in proportion to their need. 
It is our advised opinion that this condition is the direct result of our virtual 
exclusion from the administrative or policy forming offices of the various federal 
departments and bureaus set up for the administration and execution of programs 
for women and children. 

As good Americans, we should aspire to make our rightful contribution to 
the social advancement of our nation. We do not feel that this can be 
accomplished as long as so large a sector as we represent is so largely excluded 
from the full benefits of social welfare legislation. 49 

Given the magnitude of womanist exclusion from white collar government, the specific 
conference recommendations were modest. It proposed that one competent woman of color 
receive employment in an administrative post "strategic to the full participation of Negro women 
and children" in each of the following: the Children's Bureau, Women's Bureau, Federal 
Housing Administration, U.S. Housing Authority, and Social Security Board. But in the Bureau 
of Education, the conference requested "a Negro woman staff member in each department or 
bureau whose program is concerned with the educational well-being of women and/or children." 
Turning to health, the assembly noted, "In spite of the high mortality and morbidity rates among 
Negroes, the Bureau of Public Health Service has but one Negro health officer in its employ." 
Therefore it called for that agency to hire many more: an administrative officer, physicians, 
medical service workers, public health nurses, and nutritionists. 

Also, the group considered the American Red Cross. It had "no national Negro 
administrative offices and only one Negro chapter," despite embodying the country's 
humanitarian effort generally and also morale-building for troops abroad. The conference 
recommended that the U.S. President, as the Red Cross ex-officio head, suggest to it the 
employment of an African American to facilitate integrating the race into its activities. When 



53 
this was coupled with recommendations for the Public Health Service, it became clear that 

where only one African American was employed when others were desperately needed, or where 

no African American professional was employed in a general program, i.e., not specifically 

designed for women and children, the NCNW's priority was getting African Americans hired, 

regardless of gender. 50 

While the NCNW White House Conference was a grand experience or, as participant 
Addie Dickerson relayed to friend Nannie Helen Burroughs, "very good and. . . quite 
worthwhile," more than six months later it had netted virtually none of the desired jobs. Mabel 
Staupers reported that since the conference a black physician had been added to the New York 
Public Health Service, thus doubling black physicians there. Clara Bruce observed that the 
conference findings, had "really found a place in the minds and hearts of those women present, 
especially in the great heart of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt." E.R.'s great heart beating under a 
Bethune influence, had facilitated the reorganization of Freedman's Hospital, including the 
employment of a new, highly qualified, superintendent of nurses. 

Charlotte Hawkins Brown characterized the tangible conference outcome as "a mighty 
little bit, of course! 'Just a tip to Pullman porters,' as a man said to me recently about the new 
library given to Howard University." 51 Nevertheless, a multitude of African Americans clutched 
the inherent hope of such tips or symbolism. Appearing more pessimistic than Brown, columnist 
Floyd J. Calvin surmised, "In the case of these new demands by the [National Council] women, 
we fear this administration is too far gone, unless the unexpected happens, to see their plans bear 
fruit." He thought that since FDR's Reorganization Bill had been blocked, the best the 
administration could do was to work for the permanency of its earlier reforms. 32 



54 
Regarding White House Conference results, Bethune exuded philosophical optimism. 
"We are doing something now we have never done before. We are getting some people in 
places they have never been before. We are getting a consciousness that people have not had 
heretofore," she declared to Council women in November 1938. "The pressure we have been 
making, the intercessions that we are making, they are finding their way. A door has been sealed 
up for two hundred years. You can't open it overnight but little crevices are coming, little 
leakages are getting through.". 53 

The conference did, however, impact the thinking of many and piqued interest in the 
NCNW. News of it splashed across the pages of the black press under banners such as the 
Pittsburgh Courier 's "N.C.N. W. Thinks Race Women Are Needed In U.S. Set-Up," the Black 
Dispatch's [Oklahoma City]"Mrs. Roosevelt Hears Seven-Point Program Outlined by National 
Women's Council," the Carolina Times ' [Durham] "Negro Women Lay Requests Before Mrs. 
FDR," the Tampa Bulletin's "Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune Calls a White House Conference," 
and the Journal and Guide 's [Norfolk] "Women Seek More Federal Positions." 54 Also, the 
White House Conference propelled the NCNW to the forefront of the country's female race 
organizations, as Claude Barnett, head of the Associated Negro Press, implied to National 
Association President Jennie B. Moton. "I wanted to talk with you," he wrote, "about friend 
Mary's meeting. . . . There is no reason why you can't stand that far out in front and do the same 
thing if you care to. . . . Mary's doing a fine job and we help her, but NACW need not stand back 
of the National Council. The former has the mass of regular women to work with, and they are 
the backbone of any real movement."" 

Regardless of lacking the "the mass of regular women," in just two and a half years, the 



55 
National Council outranked the National Association in popular thinking. Shortly thereafter, 
Bethune facilitated the first "close relationship" between the National Association and federal 
leaders. Thanks to the NCNW and its peerless president, as historian Paula Giddings 
concluded, "[black] women were counted among the new groups with legitimate demands that 
had to be taken into account on the national agenda." 56 The NCNW, now on the capital city's 
map, marched on towards the prize of significantly expanded race-gender empowerment. 

Notes 



1. Jessie P. Guzman, "The Social Contributions of the Negro Woman Since 1940," Negro 
History Bulletin, 10 (January 1948), 1-15; quote on Bethune, 10. 

2. "Gigantic Organization of Negro Women," Christian Advocate, Southwestern Edition, 
57 (February 20, 1930), 145. 

3. "Statement of Mrs. Lucy Slowe, Executive Secretary of the National Council of Negro 
Women of America and Mary McLeod Bethune, President, National Council of Negro Women 
of America, Presented by Lucy D. Slowe," Hearings on Assistance to States in Providing 
Programs of Public Education, Senate Committee on Education and Labor, 75 th Congress S. 419^ 
February 9, 1937, Senate Library, Volume 547, 1937, 102-105. I thank Randy Boehm and Nicki 
Hume of University Publications of America for providing the citation and a copy of the Senate 
Hearings. 

4. NCNW Proceedings of Annual Meeting, November 26, 1938, 38, 41 , NCNW Papers, 
Series 2, Box 1, Folder 4, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, National Historic Site, 
National Park Service; Tentative By-Laws of the National Council of Negro Women, April 9, 
1936, NCNW Papers, Series 1, Box 1, Folder 1; NCNW Certificate of Incorporation, July 25, 
1936, NCNW Papers, Series 4, Box 1, Folder 2. 

5. NCNW Certificate of Incorporation, July 25, 1936; Constitution and By-Laws of the 
National Council of Negro Women, November 1949, NCNW Papers, Series 1, Box 1, Folder 1. 

6. NCNW Certificate of Incorporation, July 25, 1936; NCNW Informational Statement, 
1946, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 2, Folder 29. 

7. "Mrs. Bethune Still Holds Dream of Super Unity of Women of America," Omaha 
Chronicle, December 4, 1936, Mary McLeod Bethune Papers, Amistad Research Center, Tulane 



56 
University. Italics added. 

8. Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy A Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894- 
1994 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1999), 167, 174, 198; Tracey A. Fitzgerald, The National 
Council of Negro Women and the Feminist Movement, 1935-1975 (Washington, D.C: 
Georgetown University Press, 1985), 13-14. 

9. Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith, ed. Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a 
Better World, Essays and Selected Documents (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 
199-207. Kelly Miller, "Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune Calls White House Meeting," Journal and 
Guide [Norfolk]. April 16, 1938, 8; Elaine M. Smith, "Mary McLeod Bethune," in Black Women 
in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, ed. Darlene Clark Hine et. al., (Brooklyn: Carlson, 
1993), 121-124. 

10. NCNW Minutes, December 17, 1936, Series 2, Box 1, Folder 2. 

1 1 . Elsa Barkley Brown, "Womanist Consciousness: Maggie Lena Walker and the 
Independent Order of St. Luke, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 14 (1989), 
reprinted in Black Women in United States History: The Twentieth Century, Vol I, ed. Darlene 
Clark Hine (Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing Co., 1990), 170, 171, 172-173. 

12. Christopher E. Linsin, "Something More Than a Creed: Mary McLeod Bethune's Aim 
of Integrated Autonomy as Director of Negro Affairs," Florida Historical Quarterly, 76 
(Summer 1997), 20-21. 

13. Bethune, Pittsburgh Courier, April 10, 1937, 10. 

14. Paula Giddings, When and Where 1 Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and 
Sex in America (New York: William Morrow, 1984), 221-222. 

15. Linsin, "Something More Than a Creed," 21; NCNW Proceeding, November 26, 1938, 
38,40. 

16. NCNW Informational Statement, 1942-1943, NCNW Papers [Italics added]. 

17. NCNW Informational Statement, 1946 [Italics added]. 

18. Darlene Clark Hine and Kathleen Thompson, A Shining Thread of Hope (New York: 
Broadway Books, 1998), 241-248; Robert L. Daniel, American Women in the 20 th Century: The 
Festival of Life (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987), 99, 104-108. 

19. Elizabeth Lindsey Davis, Lifting As They Climb (Chicago: National Association of 
Colored Women, 1937), 74-76, 88-89, 179-183. See also Giddings, When and Where I Enter, 
203-204. 



57 

20. White, Too Heavy A Load, 145-146. While references are made to the International 
Council of Women of the Darker Races in various texts on black women's organizations, I found 
that the achievements were meager while the symbolism was significant. See Elaine M. Smith, 
"International Council of Women of the Darker Races," in Organizing Black America: An 
Encyclopedia of African American Associations, ed. Nina Mjagkij, (New York: Garland 
Publishing, 2001), 278-281. 

21. "Mrs. Bethune Still Holds Dream," Omaha Chronicle; Bethune to Mary Church Terrell, 
March 15, 1930, Mary Church Terrell Papers, Library of Congress. 

22. National Association of Colored Women Minutes, 1928, 59-60; Smith, "Bethune," 1 18- 
119. 

23. For Bethune's activism in the NCW, see, for example, Year Book and Directory of the 
National Council of Women of the United States, Inc., (New York: By the Council, 1928), 32, 
54, 59, 107-108, 120, 146-148; "Gigantic Organization of Negro Women," Christian Advocate; 
National Council of Women, booklet, undated, Terrell Papers. 

24. National Notes [organ or the National Association of Colored Women], June 1925, 1; 
January 1928, 3; Bethune to Terrell, January 29, 1930, Terrell Papers. 

25. Minutes of the Conference of Women, March 22, 1930, Mary McLeod Bethune 
Vertical File, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. 

26. White, Too Heavy a Load, 154. 

27. Minutes of the Organizational Meeting of the National Council of Negro Women, 
December 5, 1935, in McCluskey and Smith, Bethune: Building a Better World, 168-173. 

28. Giddings, When and Wliere I Enter, 209-210. 

29. Daniel, American Women, 91, 1 13-1 15; McCluskey and Smith, Bethune: Building a 
Better World, 201, 226-229, 233-234. 

30. Bethune quoted in NCNW Proceedings, November 26, 1938, 2; Other quote on New 
York by Clara Bruce, Ibid, 10; Minutes of Conference of Women, March 22, 1930. 

31. Ibid; Minutes of NCNW Organizational Meeting, December 5, 1935; Elaine M. Smith, 
"Mary McLeod Bethune and the National Youth Administration," in Clio Was a Woman: Studies 
in the History of American Women, ed. Mabel E. Deutrich and Virginia C. Purdy, (Washington, 
DC: Howard University Press, 1980), 151-154; "Mrs. Bethune : Spingarn Medalist," Crisis 42 
July 1935), 202. 

32. Julia Jones, "Talk O' Town," Pittsburgh Courier, August 8, 1942, 9, noted the initial 



58 



reaction to the NCNW; "Controversy On Forming New National Council of Women," 
December 1935, newspaper and specific date unidentified, Bethune Scrapbook, Mary McLeod 
Bethune Papers, Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation (BF), Bethune-Cookman College; "Dr. 
Mary Waring Assails New National Council," Pittsburgh Courier, December 21, 1935, 9. 

33. "Mary McLeod Bethune Sends Appeal For '36," Pittsburgh Courier, January 4, 1936, 
6; Bethune quoted in "Ignores Bitter Assailment of NACW Prexy," Pittsburgh Courier, 
December 28, 1935, 8. 

34. Bethune advised Stewart not to change the time and place of the 1932 convention, but 
Stewart acted otherwise. Bethune wrote, "I am convinced, as I have said to you and to many of 
the women, that our National Association should hold its regular meeting at the regular time and 
in the place designated. . . .1 am simply interested in the best good of our organization, this is 
all." Bethune to Stewart, October 28, 1931, National Association of Colored Women's Clubs 
Papers, Sallie W. Stewart File, National Assn. Of Colored Women's Clubs Headquarters, 
Washington, D.C; See "Biennial Conventions and Presidents," Wesley, A Legacy of Service, 
529. 

35. Bethune quoted in McCluskey and Smith, Bethune: Building a Better World, 133; 
complete speech in this volume from which quote is taken is "President's Address to the 
Fifteenth Biennial Convention of the National Association of Colored Women," August 2, 1926, 
154-163; White, Too Heavy A Load, 156-157, 292-293. 

36. Barnes, "Present Policies of NACW Are Wasteful and Unsound!" Pittsburgh Courier, 
April 24, 1937, 9; Julia B. Jones, "Talk O' Town," Pittsburgh Courier, November 1, 1941, 9; 
"Brown America in Review," Brown American," September-October 1941. 

37. NCNW Certificate of Incorporation, July 25, 1936; NCNW Minutes, April 29, 1936; 
NCNW Minutes, December 17, 1936, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 1, Folder 2; NCNW 
Minutes, December 18, 1937, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 1, Folder 3. Quote about Slowe 
from Bethune to Terrell, October 22, 1937, Terrell Papers. 

38. NCNW Minutes, April 29, 1936; NCNW Minutes, December 17, 1936; NCNW 
Minutes, December 18, 1937. 

39. Bethune quoted in "Proceedings of the Second National Youth Administration 
Advisory Committee Meeting," April 28-29, 1936, in McCluskey and Smith, Bethune: Building 
a Better World, 218. 

40. Statement of Mrs. Lucy Slowe and Mary McLeod Bethune, Senate Committee of 
Education and Labor, February 9, 1937. 

41 . While the organizational session was a luncheon meeting, the '36 session was a dinner 
meeting. NCNW Minutes, December 18, 1937; Bethune, "The National Council," Pittsburgh 



59 
Courier, January 1, 1938, 2. 

42. Jessie P. Guzman, ed., Negro Year Book: 1941-1946 (Tuskegee Institute, Alabama: 
Department of Records and Research, 1947), 140-141; Minutes, Federal Council on Negro 
Affairs, August 26, 1938, and Bethune to Walter White, August 29, 1938, BF; NCNW 
Proceedings, November 26, 1938, 21-22, 52, 58-62. 

43. Bethune to Terrell, March 18, 1938, Terrell Papers; Alexander to Bethune, March 28, 
1938, NCNW Papers, Series 4, Box 1, Folder 9; NCNW Proceedings, November 26, 1938, 35, 
38; Joyce Ann Hanson, "The Ties that Bind: Mary McLeod Bethune and the Political 
Mobilization of Women," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Connecticut, 1997), 176-177; 
Giddings, When and Where I Enter, 229. 

44. Forrester B. Washington to Bethune, March 2, 1938, NCNW Papers, (Series 4, Box 1, 
Folder 3). 

45. A list of most black participants, with a photo, appear in Ruth Caston Mueller, ed. 
Women United: Souvenir Year Book (Washington, D.C: NCNW, 1951), 25. Some association 
members' names appeared in Wesley's Legacy of Service and Davis' Lifting as We Climb. 

46. NCNW Proceedings, November 26, 1938, 1 1-13; Muller, Women United, 25. 

47. NCNW Proceedings, November 26, 1938, 14, 39; "Women Seek More Federal 
Positions," Journal and Guide, April 16, 1938, 10. 

48. Miller, "Bethune Calls White House Meeting;" Bethune to Terrell, March 18, 1938. 

49. Findings of the Conference on the Participation of Negro Women in Federal Welfare 
Programs, NCNW Papers, Series 4, Box 1, Folder 6. 

50. Ibid. 

51. Dickerson to Burroughs, April 29, 1938, Nannie Helen Burroughs Papers, Library of 
Congress; NCNW Proceedings, November 26, 1938, 32-33, 38. 

52. "Calvin's Digest: "Women Speak Up," The Carolina Times [Durham], April 23, 1938, 
4. 

53. NCNW Proceedings, November 26, 1938, 39. 

54. Courier, April 14, 1938, 9; Dispatch, April 16, 1938, Carolina Times, April 16, 1938, 
Bulletin, April 16, 1938, Newspaper Clippings, BF; Journal an d Guide, April 17, 1938, p. 10. 

55. Barnett to Moton, April 16, 1938, Claude Barnett Papers, Bethune File, Chicago 



60 
Historical Society. 

56. Wesley, Legacy of Service, 37, 113; Giddings, When and Where I Enter, 230. 



61 



Chapter 2 
Woraanist Leader in Government 

Introduction 

On September 6, 1940, when the United States stood chiefly as the Arsenal of 
Democracy in opposition to the bid of Germany's Adolph Hitler to subdue Europe, the Director 
of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration, addressed black college administrators 
in a regional Atlanta conference. Accurately, Mary McLeod Bethune noted, "The masses are 
depending upon the colleges and leaders." "You must look out beyond your college to help 
Negroes—assist to bring into operation everything that we possibly can bring to the Negro youth 
and to the Negro adult." She advised, "Prepare men [for jobs] that are in demand today. There 
is much for you to do; there is much more for you to get if you will get up and go after it." She 
advocated training youth both in the "upper tiers" and in vocational pursuits. Relative to the 
latter Bethune stated, "If we have no [NY A] facilities [in a given locale], have them [educational 
authorities] build shops that will take care of both boys and girls. Ninety-nine per cent of the 
work that was done by men is being done by women today in Europe. It is vitally important that 
we get these shops and facilities where not only boys are prepared but girls also." These 
programs would contribute to national defense. "This defense program," she insisted, "is the 
program we must think about in everything we are doing." 1 

While talking national defense in 1940, the Great Depression had provided Mary 
Bethune the prestigious platform on which she stood. On June 26, 1935 by Executive Order 



62 
7086 under the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created 
the National Youth Administration with $55,000,000. Over eight years it spent $685,000,000 
assisting more than four million people. Though on a smaller budget than the Civilian 
Conservation Corps, the other major federal outreach to Depression-era youth, NYA served far 
more individuals. It was lodged in three successive government structures: the Works Progress 
(Projects) Administration, the Federal Security Administration, and the War Manpower 
Commission. Even so, it functioned autonomously. 

NYA had multiple objectives for youth aged 16 to 25. It was to extend work-aid— in 
today's parlance, work-study~to youth in high school, college, and graduate school via local 
participating institutions; to give work-aid to out-of-school unemployed youth through the 
development of local projects; and to offer vocational training and placement services, 
concentrated in areas where they were especially needed. Thus, NYA focused on education, 
training, and employment. Additionally, considering that Germany's Third Reich aggressively 
promoted fascism in Hitler's Youth organizations, the agency's designers intended that it would 
help America's young people to understand and respect democracy. 

With unprecedented and staggering unemployment during the middle of the Great 
Depression, youth deserved special attention because they constituted about one-third of all the 
unemployed and they lacked work experience and work habits vis-a-vis other workers. Of all 
young people reeling from hard times, black youth suffered most due to the marginal existence 
of their families before the economy crashed. While constituting 13 percent of the youth 
population but 15 percent of that population on relief, they found it extremely difficult to find a 
job even in agriculture or domestic and personal service, which had employed nearly two-thirds 



63 
of all black workers. Desperate whites were increasingly taking this work. Bewildered, 
frustrated, and defeated, many had reason to succumb to hopelessness. 2 

Based upon the New Deal track record by 1935, it was problematic whether African 
Americans would receive anything approaching a fairness in NYA, especially because of its 
decentralized administration. Even through the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration was the 
first since Reconstruction to significantly facilitate aspects of equality for black people, 
intractable racial segregation and prejudice denied them equal benefits. The administration's 
macro-economic fixes in the form of the National Recovery Administration and the Agricultural 
Adjustment Administration operated in a flagrantly discriminatory fashion. The NRA exempted 
from its industry codes most occupational categories dominated by blacks. A majority of black 
textile workers, for example, received no government-insured minimum wage or maximum 
work hours. And NRA codes completely ignored household workers. Agriculture was no better. 
Due to AAA, white farm owners put many black tenants and sharecroppers off the land, while 
collecting increased checks from Washington for acreage reduction. When tenants and 
sharecroppers stayed, often owners squeezed them out of some AAA benefits. Marked 
unfairness to blacks ran through the Civil Works Administration, the Public Works 
Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and other New Deal initiatives. 

Nonetheless, in relation to others, African Americans garnered more benefits under New 
Deal programs than the older ones. New Deal public housing and emergency education 
initiatives approached equitable proportions for blacks. 3 In this respect, the undeniably liberal 
NYA emulated and exceeded them. In July *43, the New York Amsterdam News header about 
NYA was, "Agency Expressed True Democratic Idealism Throughout Its Existence." It rang true 



64 
to most contemporaneous objective-thinking Americans. Two years earlier, one analyst even 
noted, "The National Youth Administration is the model from which all other government 
agencies should pattern their policies with respect to giving equal opportunities for advancement 
to capable and efficient Negroes." "Many observers believed," the Atlanta Daily World reported, 
"that it had given the Negro a fairer break [than other federal programs] from all points of view." 
On the eve of its demise, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt affirmed, "In it [NY A] all young people 
have an even chance for improvement, and on [an] equal basis." Scholars have generally 
concurred with the positive contemporary assessment, beginning with George Rawick in the 
1950's, who noted that the agency "did not discriminate against Negroes," offered them special 
benefits, and "practiced segregation only in areas where to do otherwise . . . would have brooked 
disaster." 4 

Mary McLeod Bethune helped immeasurably to earn NYA its liberal reputation. 
According to the Pittsburgh Courier, she won "unanimous praise for her work in integrating 
Negro youth" into agency activities. One assistant remembered, "I have seen her run a veritable 
golden thread through the cold and objective operations of governmental agencies to reach out to 
youth all over the land and literally kindle a warm hearth for her co-workers of every race and 
creed." In 1942, about the time that NYA abandoned its state-administered program in favor of 
centralization, Selective Service administrator Campbell C. Johnson lauded her contribution. "It 
is impossible to over estimate the value of the [NYA] program which you have projected 
throughout the country," he declared, "or the power of the influence of your personality over 
American youth." 5 While Bethune elevated youth, she functioned also in ways benefitting all of 
black America. Assisted by her Federal Council on Negro Affairs, better known as the Black 



65 
Cabinet, she brought into focus the problem of race, most visibly through two three-day black 
conferences under government sponsorship. The first was so impressive that attendance doubled 
at the second. After the latter, one judicious attendee told Bethune, "I know of no other person, 
man or woman who could have equaled your accomplishment in harmonizing the various and 
conflicting groups of our people, and guiding them into one common endeavor, cooperatively 
working for the good of all." 6 

"Womanist Leader in Government" places Mary Bethune inside the NYA and 
government in general. Working from a simultaneous orientation to both African Americans and 
women, she was a womanist, as discussed in Chapter 1 . This chapter follows Bethune up the 
NYA ladder. As an adviser, she helped to formulate and insert into debate major measures she 
consistently championed to promote equality. As an Administrative Assistant, she intensified 
her efforts, traveling extensively to inspect NYA projects, to offer suggestions and inspiration 
for improvement, and to build support for the agency. As Division Director, she adjusted and 
promoted the transition from a depression-oriented program to one of national defense. AJso, the 
chapter takes cognizance of Bethune's transcendence of a job description to become race leader 
at-large, meaning the most illustrious black New Dealer and the country's most influential black 
woman. Even when Congress terminated NYA, the afterglow of Bethune's identification with it 
and the First Family rebounded to her continuing leadership. 
NYA Adviser 

NYA was the leading equal opportunity agency in Washington. Its most influential 
policy-makers, particularly Administrator Aubrey Willis Williams, cast it that way. This 
Alabama native was "a great human being, a warm, fascinating person, and a man of tremendous 



66 
courage and humanity," fellow Alabamian and New Dealer Clifford Durr recalled. Even before 
his Advisory Committee met, Williams, 45, had assembled black leaders, to solicit their input 
into the fledgling program. His own upbringing as a poor boy, his youthful imbibing of populist 
egalitarianism, and his early admiration of Abraham Lincoln and Jesus had predisposed this 
social worker to view sympathetically the plight of black people. As deputy to Harry Hopkins in 
the relief establishment, sobering experience regarding the extent of racism in federal programs 
strengthened his resolve to make NYA more responsive than other agencies to African 
Americans. 7 

Backed by both President and Mrs. Roosevelt, even though FDR referred to NYA as the 
"missus agency," Williams and a few others selected a National Advisory Committee to suggest 
policy and to enhance the stature of the program. Headed by Charles Taussig, president of the 
American Molasses Company, it consisted of representatives from business, agriculture, 
education, and youth. For example, those from New York included, attorney Adolph Berle, labor 
leader Sidney Hillman, religious counselor Bishop Francis E. McConnell, and businessman 
Owen D. Young. Among the lot of educators nation-wide were two people of color. The first 
was-Dr. Mordecai Johnson, president of the federally-funded Howard University in Washington, 
and thus known to the federal educational bureaucracy. While he attended an early July NYA 
planning meeting, administering Howard afforded him little time for the youth program. In 
contrast, the other ebony educator, Mary McLeod Bethune, president of Bethune-Cookman 
College in Daytona Beach, Florida, embraced NYA as tightly as possible, for she immediately 
perceived its possibilities for assisting youth and for aiding financially-strapped black 
institutions, like her own. She was one of seven women on the thirty-five-member committee. 



67 
The others were aviator Amelia Earhart, New York; welfare administrator Mae R. Sargent, Los 
Angeles; teacher lobbyists Selma Borchardt and Florence Thorn Washington; trade unionist Julia 
O'Connor, Boston; and school superintendent Agnes Samuelson, Des Moines, Iowa. 8 

NYA planners probably designated Mary McLeod Bethune as an adviser because of her 
high profile status in Black America as a college founder-president. Josephine Roche, the 
Treasury Department's assistant secretary and chair of the six-member NYA Executive 
Committee suggested her name. On June 28, 1935, at the National Association for the 
Advancement of Colored People's twenty-first presentation of its annual Spingarn Medal, the 
most prestigious recognition in Black America, Roche had been caught up in the recipient's 
achievement, oratory, and charisma. In short, in St. Louis, Missouri, medalist Bethune had 
dazzled her. 9 

Once Bethune had been mentioned for the Advisory Committee, Eleanor Roosevelt, the 
chief advocate of professional women in government, seconded the selection. Bethune had been 
among the presidents of affiliates in the National Council of Women whom ER had entertained 
at a buffet luncheon on Wednesday, December 7, 1927, at her New York City residence, 49 East 
Sixty-fifth Street. At the time her husband was governor of New York. She vaguely 
remembered that, for both she and her mother-in-law had been impressed with Bethune, the only 
African American at the luncheon. Moreover, the First Lady had received several letters from 
this black leader requesting her participation in affairs of Bethune-Cookman College and the 
National Association of Colored Women. Thus, ER was somewhat acquainted with Bethune and 
personally called the busy College President in Daytona Beach to invite her to join the youth 
advisory. 10 



68 
Sensitive to the appalling status of Black America's young and passionately committed 
to public service, Mary Bethune jumped at the invitation to serve on the NYA committee. 
Although it demanded primarily attendance at meetings scheduled once or twice a year, the 
aggressive Bethune immediately transcended this limited role. On August 24, 1935, sixteen days 
after participating in the NYA "Conference on Negro Activities," she apprized the agency that 
her desk was piling up with letters and telegrams from around the country inquiring about the 
NYA programs for blacks. Consequently, she needed official government stationary and funds 
to communicate with her constituency by mail, telegram, telephone, and in person. Surprised, 
agency leaders, nevertheless, acquiesced to the requests of its sole black woman advisor. 
Although concentrating on Florida, Bethune traveled on NYA business in other states. She 
struggled to make this program fulfill America's greatest need, which was justice. In part this 
meant that the NYA had to become increasingly sensitive to "giving consideration and 
representation to the minority groups." After eight months, Assistant Director Richard Brown 
declared that she had worked as if on the NYA payroll in Washington. n 

By then, the agency had responded positively to two of several proposals from Bethune 
for black leadership, her priority NYA issue. Prodded also by other individuals and the black 
press and in keeping with the practice of some other federal programs, it had employed in the 
Washington office a well-trained African American to facilitate black participation. Moreover, 
it had advised some state directors to employ a black assistant. With this, seemingly NYA had 
reached its 1936 limits in advancing African American professionals. When Administrator 
Aubrey Williams proposed that three or four blacks occupy regular staff positions, the 
Executive Committee balked. 



69 
Mary McLeod Bethune's standing as a mere adviser changed after meeting President 

Franklin D. Roosevelt for the first time on April 29, 1936. As the climax to the second 
conference of the Advisory Committee, its members went to the White House to present 
resolutions adopted on major youth issues. Since making no specific reference to African 
Americans, the committee compensated by permitting Bethune to give an oral report. 12 The 
most authentic indication of its contents was her statement to the committee earlier in the day. 
On May 5, 1936, the Washington Tribune confirmed this in "Mrs. Bethune Confers with 
President and First Lady for Two Hours at White House." 13 

While impossible to capture her inimitable public speaking impact, Bethune's statement 
offered— in addition to ideas—her typical manner of expression to influential whites. In such a 
situation, she acted for the greatest effect. In the first advisory meeting she had explained, "I 
think I am a careful and tactful person— I have tried to study how to make approaches and how to 
get along with people in order that we might get the best good accomplished." 14 Characterizing 
her approach, historian Christopher Linsin declares it a "combination of deference, flattery, and 
political pragmatism" indicating "a tactical awareness of how to best deal with white people- 
even liberal white people." "Bethune knew the power that race and a position of racial 
innocence cast in a moral context could impose," Linsin asserts. "By maintaining a moral 
posture, by asseverating loyalty, and by promoting black Americans as the innocent victims of 
white oppression, Bethune effectively used all the means at her disposal to secure the most she 
could from the Roosevelt administration." One thing was certain: Bethune's manner of 
speaking contrasted sharply with the style of all others on the youth advisory body, including 
Mordecai Johnson's. 15 



70 
Assuredly, Bethune was grateful for the agency. "I want first of all to express on the part 
of the Negro people, our appreciation for the vision of our illustrious President, and his 
committee, in extending to the nation this NYA program," she declared. "In my opinion, and I 
think I am thinking in terms of thinking Negro people, I believe it to be one of the most 
stabilizing projects for the benefit of the American of tomorrow, than possibly any one thing that 
we have done. . . . The Negro views with deep interest the national program for all youth and 
approves most highly its objectives," she said. 

Bethune then talked about NYA in relation to black involvement, emphasizing 
intangibles. "More particularly is the Negro interested in those phases of the program, which for 
the first time in the history of the nation, affords to Negro youth through Federal benefits, larger 
opportunities for education, productive work and cultural and wholesome recreation," she 
contended. This consummate Adviser enumerated NYA's most valuable outcomes for the 
African American as follows. 

1. His optimistic awakening to the responsibility of 
citizenship made possible through the channels of training 
provided through the program of the National Youth 
Administration. 

2. The fine spirit of cooperation of the general Negro 
public in fostering the objectives of the program of 
the NYA. 

3. The fine spirit of cooperation and healthy participation 
on the part of Negro educators and leaders, and state 
and local NYA Administrators. 

Bethune also saw an especially important result for the nation. Addressing the advisory 
committee Chair first and then the committee, she declared, "This NYA program has afforded 



71 
the finest opportunity for interracial cooperation and understanding in these local communities, 

than any one thing that we have had come among us, particularly in our own southern section." 

But she immediately returned to a black focus, remarking that with NYA "touching the humblest 

black boy of the South, [there] has come a realization on the part of thousands of untutored 

Negro parents that the government does care,--for 'even the least of these.'" 

Bethune tackled the torturous configurations of America's endemic racial segregation 
head-on. "In places where there is no need for a separate program, for Negro and white groups, 
we most heartily recommend the one program," she announced. "And in fields where it is 
necessary for us to have a separate program, we most heartily recommend a separate program, 
taking, of course, under advisement, the necessity of the proper leadership and guidance that we 
might be able to do the most effective work." In other words, Bethune advocated black 
leadership—or black self determination~in programs for blacks along with integration whenever 
that was possible. As discussed in the previous chapter, Christopher E. Linsin labels this two- 
prong ideological position integrated autonomy. It reflected the duality of being both of African 
descent and an American. 

Bethune moved on to the centerpiece of her drive to facilitate NYA black participation. 
She asked for acceptance of this proposal: "Continuing the policy adopted by the committee at 
its previous meeting [August 15, 1935] regarding the appointment of qualified Negroes as 
members of staffs of state and local organizations; and the recognition of the value of Negro 
Supervision for strictly Negro work projects." Although already in place, thanks in part to her 
efforts, she continued to rationalize these policies. "May I advise the committee that it does not 
matter how equipped your white supervision might be, or your white leadership, it is impossible 



72 
for you to enter as sympathetically and understanding^ into the program of the Negro, as the 
Negro can do. Then it will give, also, the thing that we very much need nowadays," she 
contended, "that opportunity for the development of leadership among the Negro people 
themselves, and it is becoming more important that the right type of leadership be produced. 
They can only become efficient, by having the opportunity to develop and grow in participating 
in these programs." 

Assuring her listeners that she understood the difficulty of implementing such practices, 
Bethune explained, "We recognize that great care and diplomacy are necessary in certain places 
to bring this idea to pass. I want you to keep that in mind, for all of these years I have been 
reared and working in a community where it takes the type of understanding leadership, to take 
steps slowly but surely. ..." Regardless of difficulty, she warned, "The committee must not 
permit itself to be turned aside from the prosecution and realization of the major objectives of 
the National Youth program, chief of which is the development of, an appreciation of, 
citizenship values in the minds of American youth regardless of race, creed or color." 

Then Bethune advanced a new initiative: funds earmarked to equalize college 
opportunities "in certain states where the Negro has not been able to obtain equal educational 
opportunities." She concluded, "I beg this Committee, whose position is so sacied in 
administering this program as handed down by our illustrious President, to keep eternal 
vigilance to safeguard the interest and welfare of all the youth of America. I speak particularly 
in behalf of the Negro youth." 16 

Having spoken directly to Franklin Roosevelt, Bethune' s positive and optimistic report 
on black NYA participation touched him. "When I had finished," she declared in 1949, "I saw 



73 
that tears were coursing down President Roosevelt's cheeks." No confirmation for this exists, 

however, and it should be noted that the memory of the hyperbole-prone Bethune sometimes 
faltered in recalling objective reality, as in the memoir, "My Secret Talks with FDR." 17 
Regardless of the truth, ten days later, Bethune returned to Washington. Having been greatly 
impressed with her personality, work, and speech, President Roosevelt had directed Aubrey 
Williams to put her over NYA affairs for African Americans. FDR believed that she could 
advance the interest of black youth better than anybody else. When Williams related this, 
Bethune replied, "Why, Mr. Williams, I can never fulfill the requirements of such an office. I 
have my college to look after. I am inspirational and non-technical, while the President needs a 
real technician for that job." Williams answered, "We have thought of those matters. You may 
have as many technical experts under you as seems wise. Certain time-off can be arranged so 
that you may continue as president of your college. . . . There is no such word as 'can't' at this 
time. You must," he insisted. "Do you realize that this is the first time in the history of America 
that an administrative government office has been created for one of the Negro race? You must 
accept. We will do all we can to help you." After several long distance phone calls, Bethune 
took the job. 18 

Of course, more existed to the appointment than the preceding. In 1934, Eleanor 
Roosevelt had taken to heart a suggestion from Melvin Chisum, field secretary of the Negro 
Press Association, namely, that "A capable, intelligent Negro woman of fine training should be 
chosen, to see to it that the Negro people ... be not ignored and left out," as frequently occurred 
in New Deal programs. ER was alerted to the difficulty of implementing this when Labor 
Department Secretary Frances Perkins would not hear of an ebony professional woman in the 



74 
department's Women's Bureau, although Perkins had made it a point to attract talented white 
women to the agency. ER saw her opportunity in NYA with Bethune. She received an assent 
from Works Progress Administrator Harry Hopkins, who had legal jurisdiction over NYA. 
Another reason for ER's initiative was that the White House had been embarrassed with the 
deservedly bad press of the Civilian Conservation Corps on racial issues. It had failed to enroll 
many qualified black applicants, its discriminated against young black men who managed to 
enlist, and it habitually denied employment to black professionals. With a highly visible and 
revered African American in NYA, it hoped to avoid racial such headaches there. I9 

Bethune was a natural for the job. She needed to find new sources of funds for her 
college, which a base in the nation's capital afforded. More to the point, she found her arduous 
advisory activities rewarding. She desired greater involvement of black women in federal 
programs. She was the right age--in her 60's— for if older white women, like Molly Dewson, 
chief of the Women's Division of the Democratic Party, found their gray hair an advantage in 
dealing with men unaccustomed to females wielding power in Washington, gray hair appeared 
doubly valuable to Bethune. Most of all, however, Bethune possessed confidence in her ability 
to promote the full integration and participation of Negro youth in NYA. She envisioned the job 
as one of interpretation: interpreting the program to African Americans, and interpreting the 
needs of this minority to white Americans. She believed that her training and experience 
"peculiarly" fitted her for these tasks. And, too, FDR was comfortable with her. After initial 
reservations, she accepted the position of NYA chief Negro specialist. 20 
NYA Administrative Assistant 

Mary McLeod Bethune joined the NYA Washington staff at a propitious time. Adolph 



75 
Hitler's Nazism, especially its notion of the master race, was causing thoughtful Americans to 
re-examine their home-grown racism. More importantly, the dynamics of new Deal philosophy 
as it related to the dispossessed and the underdog were catching up with its architect. Boosting 
these dynamics were northern black voters, Southern liberals, Northern radicals, equalitarian 
unionists, antifascist scholars, and civil rights partisans. Concomitantly, in nationalizing 
American culture, the New Deal exposed stark deviations from the norm, of which the South 
was the most arresting. The convergence of these factors had turned the New Deal to greater 
liberalism, heralded by Social Security and favorable labor union legislation. 21 

Within this framework, on June 24, 1936, Mary McLeod Bethune reported to 1340 G. 
Street, N.W., Washington D.C., as the full-time ranking specialist on Negro Affairs in the 
National Youth Administration. Knowledgeable African Americans welcomed the appointment. 
David D. Jones, President of Bennett College for Women, wrote Aubrey Williams, "Mrs. 
Bethune is one of our really great leaders. She has the confidence of the young as well as the 
old; of the radical as well as the conservatives." He believed that the appointment strengthened 
NYA considerably. 22 

Bethune projected herself as director of the Division of Negro Affairs. Technically this 
overstated her rank, for initially she bore the title Administrative Assistant in Charge of Negro 
Affairs. Yet there can be no doubt that from the beginning the Roosevelts intended for her to 
have the respect, resources, and latitude of a division director. Civil Service just took a while to 
catch up. In the meantime, Bethune, a woman of faith, operated as if the promise were reality. 
Certainly, she outranked the competent Juanita Saddler, NYA's other Administrative Assistant 
in Charge of Negro Affairs, who with Bethune's enthusiastic blessings, had relocated from New 



76 
York to Washington to take the NYA black job. Reporting to work on December 2, 1935, this 
former field secretary for the Young Women's Christian Association, had earlier cooperated 
closely with adviser Bethune. They favored the same strategies for facilitating NYA black 
participation. Seventeen days after the older woman's arrival, however, Saddler submitted a curt 
resignation, effective four days later. 23 

But an assistant was what Bethune needed. One had been promised with the job offer. 
She wanted a very capable individual—one she knew well and of unquestioned loyalty. She 
favored the youthful Dr. Frank Home, whom she had known for years as a result of her 
friendship with his mother. In fact, he was "the one person she wanted." In light of this, 
Saddler's resignation was probably inevitable. Bethune wrote Home at Fort Valley College in 
Georgia on July 9, 1936, two days before Saddler resigned. He was not interested. But enlisting 
the assistance of the head of Fort Valley, Henry A. Hunt— who worked also for the Farm Credit 
Administration in Washington—Bethune got Home to the capital for an interview. Afterwards, 
he accepted the post, and intended to start four days later as Bethune had requested. But Aubrey 
Williams and his deputy Richard Brown disapproved. They supported a Mr. Henningburg, 
backed by President Frederick Patterson of Tuskegee Institute. At that point, having been 
released with difficulty from his Fort Valley job, Home could not return because a replacement 
had been engaged. Thus he lacked the means to support his family. Moreover, he had already 
completed arrangements for housing in D.C. Williams and Brown had to back down. 
Apparently, Bethune had understood all along what it took to get the assistant of her choice. 
With the White House behind her, she had no compunctions about wheeling and dealing 24 
Probably remembering this introduction to staffer Bethune, as well as other vivid 



77 
experiences, retrospectively Aubrey Williams observed, "She was a damn good politician. She 

knew how to use other people for ends she wanted to achieve. . . . She had good goals. They had 

nothing small about them. She used any means at hand to achieve them." He probably would 

have concurred with historian Joseph P. Lash's observation: "She [Bethune] had the most 

marvelous gift of effecting feminine helplessness in order to attain her aims with masculine 

ruthlessness." 25 Even so, Aubrey Williams approved the work of his independently-minded 

black administrator, despite her periodic illnesses and split-time between NYA and Bethune- 

Cookman. Unquestionably Bethune performed essential tasks well, for the NYA Chief never let 

friendship, compassion, or obligation prevent him from dismissing unsatisfactory employees. In 

Bethune' s case, his concern was keeping her. When, after two years, the Bethune-Cookman 

College Executive Committee requested Williams to release her from NYA he bristled, "It is 

simply unthinkable at this time for her to leave her work with us. No one can do what Mrs. 

Bethune can do. ... I prayerfully request that you agree to another year of joint service. The B- 

CC Committee did. 26 

While no one could do what Bethune did, nevertheless, she was not divine. During the 

depression-oriented program, she experienced the least success in NYA's guidance and 

placement component, which involved unhelpful State Employment Services. Unable to find 

non-relief employment particularly in the North, African American youth lingered on NYA work 

projects when whites had moved on to other employment. After monitoring the trend for a year, 

Bethune became as emphatic as possible about instituting effective placement. She argued that 

it was so important that if necessary, cutbacks in school aid and work-relief should be effected to 

promote it. Even so, placement of ebony youth languished. 27 



78 
A little fairer to African Americans than placement were work-projects for youth no 
longer in school. Initially, to get relief money into the pockets of needy youth quickly, Bethune 
pushed the projects easiest to start. They catered to the unskilled occupational status of blacks 
and the decided absence of local project sponsors. Consequently, black youth received work- 
training in domestic service, cooking, sewing, beauty culture, laundering, truck gardening, 
chicken raising, and the like. In 1937, some of these projects were staged better. In twenty-five 
southern communities, resident centers for youth from rural areas were established on or near 
black colleges. In '38, Bethune had seen enough of such projects. She reported to Aubrey 
William that black youth needed more advanced work-training, in better organized projects that 
were the equivalent of those for whites. With uncharacteristic candor she blurted, "There is no 
really outstanding NYA project for Negroes in the country." Then she argued for some involving 
metal arts and crafts, auto mechanics, aeronautical mechanics, large scaled buildings, and the 
like. She had to wait. In the meantime, she boasted about at least one project. Near Fort Valley, 
Georgia, existed "one of the most outstanding rural centers for Negroes in the country ..." she 
asserted, "a fine sample for all the states of the Union to follow." 28 

Obviously, Bethune failed to achieve equitable participation of African Americans in the 
work-training projects during the 1930's. And, while the black school-aid program never leaped 
to equality with whites either, as historian Allen Kifer convincingly demonstrates, Bethune 
significantly increased the black share. Her most impressive contribution to secondary school 
aid was devising the means to establish secondary schools in parts of rural Mississippi in order 
in order that black youth might then receive NYA in-school benefits. NYA transferred 
thousands of dollars from the regular school-aid fund designated for high school students to the 



79 
college graduate fund for blacks in Mississippi in order to establish an intensive nine-month 

teacher education program, approved by the Mississippi Department of Education. High schools 

in Brookhaven, Clarksdale, Edwards, Greenwood, and West Point became program sites. In this 

way, an average of one hundred and twenty-five teachers per year became available to teach in 

rural schools during the program's existence. This development was so impressive that 

Congressman Arthur W. Mitchell included it in his speech on "the New Deal and the Negro" in 

the House of Representatives on October 14, 1942. 29 

Bethune obtained much more for blacks in the post-secondary aid program. In April 

1936, she had begged the NYA Advisory Committee to endorse earmarked funds to equalize 

college opportunities for blacks. Also, in explaining to Aubrey Williams this need, she said, "I 

wish you would give me $200,000, but if you cannot, just give me $100,000, and I will be 

happy." Bethune added, "Give it to me on my desk; let me say where it will go. Let me be boss 

of that." Williams mustered little enthusiasm for this, but permitted Bethune a special graduate 

fund of $75,000 anyway. Blacks could apply for this aid if they had failed to benefit from the 

regular NYA allotment to their schools. If they attended predominantly white institutions, NYA 

demanded that a fair share of the regular aid serve them before any were eligible for special 

assistance. Thanks to this Special Fund, 7.4 percent of all graduate students NYA assisted in 

1936-37 were black, compared to 2.5 percent the previous year. 30 

From the field came many requests to liberalize the use of college aid money. 

Concurring, Bethune used a portion of the Special Fund to make available graduate work in 

library science for one hundred students, because trained librarians were essential to schools 

seeking accreditation. Atlanta University, Fisk University, Prairie View College, and Hampton 



80 
Institute participated in this program. Moreover, with Special Fund support, Tuskegee Institute 
offered a commercial dietetics program to prepare students to become dieticians, chefs, and 
waiters. Those satisfactorily combining this curricula with more traditional ones, received a 
Bachelor of Science Degree. 31 

In dealing with school aid, work-training programs, and placement, Bethune endeavored 
to increase black participation at all levels. To facilitate this, she wanted more black advisory 
members at the national and state levels. She wanted more black supervisors of work-training 
projects at the local level. But the centerpiece of her drive towards equity was the employment 
of black administrative assistants to state directors "for administrative leadership of Negroes in 
the states," as she explained it. They were to interpret black needs to state directors and 
influence them to allot a fair share of benefits to African Americans. 32 The concept of black 
assistants to white directors was not original with Bethune, for in June 1935 the NAACP had 
requested that relief czar Harry Hopkins "appoint qualified black deputy administrators" to 
improve the chance of fair relief assistance to African Americans. 33 Bethune, however, made 
greater headway with the idea of black assistants than anybody else. 

Although qualified blacks went after the job of assistant to a NYA state director— 
occasionally getting help from Congressmen~in some cases directors dragged their feet. Three 
years into the program, Indiana had not filled its top black position. State Director Robert S. 
Richey claimed the lack of administrative money to pay one. He could place an assistant, 
however, on a project payroll without annual leave and other administrative benefits. 
Emphatically, Bethune retorted, "But we don't want him of the project payroll." "If I can't get 
the kind of help I need to give you men [state directors] the kind of cooperation you need and 



81 

intelligent cooperation—there is no use putting them [assistants] on. There is no use putting 

anybody on unless you pay them well." To get action Bethune promised to confer again with 
Administrator Aubrey Williams and his deputy that same day, September 29, 1938. Within a 
year, Indiana hired William Vernon Shields as the assistant. 34 

While some state directors with a significant black population hesitated to hire a black 
assistant, Bethune worked with those at hand. She assembled twenty-one of them, along with 
fourteen black members of state advisory boards and others, in Washington on February 11-13, 
1937, to discuss specific problems of African Americans within the NYA. They came from 
north and south, but notably missing were assistants from Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. 
Like Indiana, these states had not employed one and Mississippi and Texas would never get 
around to it. All agreed with Bethune on the necessity of hiring more African Americans in 
administrative and supervisory positions, even though the job of an assistant was far from easy. 
Some had insufficient salaries, inadequate office arrangements, and unfriendly state directors. 
Some experienced intimidation for communicating with Bethune's office, because their state 
directors interpreted it as disloyalty. Bethune was sensitive to the handicaps under which 
assistants labored. When they encountered sticky situations, she supported them as best she 
could. Sometimes she turned a spotlight on a given situation by having Administrator Williams 
or his deputy direct subordinates to investigate a grievance, as in October 1936 when one Florida 
black NYA employee saw his monthly salary dwindle from $150 to $100. 35 

Mary McLeod Bethune understood the assistants' situations well. She traveled enough. 
In her first year alone, she logged 40,000 miles through twenty-one states. On April 5, 1938, she 
started her most ambitious trip: a six- week tour of the West. At the various stops, typically she 



82 
met NYA state directors, inspected NYA projects, and addressed audiences. Typically, NYA 
staffers treated her as general's personal envoy. In September 1936, on a visit to Birmingham, in 
addition to visiting all black projects, she met with the entire NYA state staff and project 
representatives. She marveled, "I was shown every courtesy. ... I could not have imagined any 
such reception in Birmingham, Alabama." The reception, however, did not blind her to the 
absence of African Americans on the city's NYA staff. She left the "Magic City," determined to 
change that. 36 

In '38, the year that NYA aided 55,000 young African Americans, reports from Iowa and 
Oklahoma indicated that state directors responded well to Bethune, even though most had 
probably never had to receive an African American before, much less pay tribute to one. R. W. 
Tallman informed NYA Washington headquarters that Bethune "gave a most inspiring and 
helpful address. . . and gave many helpful suggestions to our local people" later at a tea. After 
touring black projects in Des Moines, she had a "very worth while" conference with the NYA 
staff. Tallman noted that in light of her suggestions, his program would improve. Additionally, 
he asserted, "Mrs. Bethune is rendering a splendid service and we appreciate her visit to Iowa." 
He wanted her to return. The Oklahoma director reacted similarly. After Bethune swept 
through, he exclaimed, "Her visit was an inspiration to me personally, to all of my people who 
came in contact with her, and needless to say she showed great leadership and great ability to 
stimulate, to lead her own people. They were profoundly impressed," Hornton A. Wright 
reported, "with her goodness, her kindness, and her ability to foresee the problems that confront 
us. ... I hope she can return soon." 37 

Many of Bethune 's trips were for the express purpose of addressing local, state, regional, 



83 
and national assemblies. Through them NYA received enormous publicity. Sometimes pomp 

and circumstance marked her arrival. During the spring of '37, this occurred in Detroit when 
she went there to address the Scyades Club, a local black group. A delegation of distinguished 
citizens greeted her at the train station and directed her into a courtesy Packard car. A police 
escort accompanied her to City Hall where the Acting Mayor presented her the key to the city. 
People here and throughout the country responded enthusiastically to Bethune's gifted oratory. 
After she had thrilled three thousand in Columbia, South Carolina, on June 6, 1937, Wil Law 
Gray, Supervisor of Adult Schools, for the South Carolina Department of Education, noted "She 
[Bethune] made one of the best speeches I have ever heard." Upon hearing Bethune speak the 
next year at the University of Nebraska, Ernest F. Witte contended, "I do no know of any person 
on the staff of a federal agency who can do more to achieve the social ideals of the National 
Youth Administration than Mrs. Bethune. In that same year, Professor Mabel Carney of 
Columbia University's Teachers College informed Aubrey Williams that Bethune spoke to "an 
audience ordinarily critical and difficult to please in the matter of lectures." Nevertheless, "Mrs. 
Bethune stepped out like a queen and gave us one of the most stirring, dramatic yet withal level- 
headed and sensible addresses ever heard here in university circles," she reported. "I heard a 
number of important people say they had never listened to a better address." 38 

In 1938, Bethune discovered that her NYA Advisory Committee membership required 
travel too. She went to St. Paul, Minnesota for a regional meeting. There she continued to urge 
committee members to support democratic inclusiveness— "a fellowship, an understanding of 
brotherhood"- which she deemed was the most important aspect of NYA. With trademark 
flattery and sincerity, she uttered "appreciation" and "gratitude" three times each. In the 



84 



process, she tugged on heart strings. "When I look into the rural [black] districts of Georgia, and 
Florida, and Alabama, and Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, and I think of what is being done, 
the awakened attitude, the enlivenment, oh, [of] that famished group that has been waiting for all 
the years for a group like this, for a program like this, for a President like this, for a leadership 
like this, to come and to administer to them, I cannot express to you our appreciation," she 
claimed. "We go way back up in the woods to those little cabins [where youth live]. You see 
their old mothers and fathers," Bethune averred, "oh, so often getting on their knees thanking 
God for the program of the National Youth Administration." 39 
Transcending the NYA 

During the Roosevelt presidency, Bethune often fused NYA functions with other 
activities, just as "From Day to Day," her 1937-38 weekly Pittsburgh Courier column often 
reported youth agency news coupled with other concerns. 40 Bethune exercised influence enough 
to have a group of busy African Americans in Washington—government employees, ministers, 
civil rights leaders, and others—assemble without knowing the business at hand, recalled 
Baltimore civil rights activist Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. "'A lot of people have asked, why are 
we here?' And she [Bethune] said, 'You are here because I called you to come. And whenever I 
want you to come I will call you, and I expect you to come whether I want anything important or 
not.'" Mitchell 's memory tallied with that of Howard University sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, 
who remarked that Bethune "became more domineering and arrogant as she acquired power and 
prestige." He saw this in her presiding over meetings and her control over organizations. These 
assessments point to the controlling side of Bethune, which is seen best in her domination of 
Bethune-Cookman College, as historian Sheila Flemming elucidates in a history of the college. 41 



85 
They also represent exceptions to Bethune's tendency to speak tactfully in public, typically to 

improve a given situation for blacks. For just as the President of the Julius Rosenwald Fund had 

pegged her, "It is as a Representative of the People that Mrs. Bethune thinks and acts. She 

knows she is a Public Institution." Certainly, this rang true in August 1939 when she 

"electrified" the New Negro Alliance's long-standing picket line around a Washington, D.C. 

drug store chain. Bethune carried a sign reading, "PEOPLE'S" [name of store] UNFAIR-NO 

COLORED CLERKS IN COLORED NEIGHBORHOODS-STAY OUT!"* 2 In the role of 

"Public Institution," or race leader, Bethune insisted on respect, participated in both ad hoc 

affairs and organizations of some longevity, submitted numerous recommendations to 

administration officials, and, like her NYA boss Aubrey Williams, showed herself a true believer 

in Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. 

A Matter of Respect 

As a "Representative of the People," Bethune indicated to disrespecting individuals that 

she deserved better, particularly when they chose to address her as "Mary." The South required 

that blacks call whites by titles, usually Mr., Mrs., or Miss; white whites addressed blacks by 

their first names or boy, auntie, and the like, often ignoring age in doing so. This regimented 

behavior was designed to continuously affirm that blacks were inferior and to have blacks, 

themselves, acknowledge such. Regarding ebony women, it amounted to a weapon contributing 

to sexual exploitation. Whites used it in conjunction with other strategies, including different 

legal sanctions against rape when committed against white and black women, and the 

assignment of single toilet facilities for both black men and women. Collectively such weapons 

bolstered the myth of the loose character of minority women so as to justify denying them 



86 
considerations bestowed upon white women. Although race etiquette, per se, lacked legal 
underpinnings, nonetheless, southern policemen and judges enforced it under "disturbing the 
peace." Sometimes they and others upheld it also through economic intimidation and physical 
terror. 43 

Like other middle-class black women, Bethune winced when whites used her given name 
because of race. In 1940 when she was hospitalized at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, for example, 
she chided a young white nurse, "I have trained hundreds of girls like you. You are not by friend 
or relative, that you can call me by first name." Interestingly, when addressing Bethune some 
whites circumvented the "Mrs." by substituting "Madame." Consequently, some blacks 
followed. But for a few strangers unfamiliar with either Mary or Madame, the handle of choice 
was "Auntie." Among the several anecdotes about this, one featured a patronizing Pullman 
conductor who said, "Auntie, give me your ticket." Bethune remained silent. He repeated it. 
Then looking up demurely she inquired, "Which of my sister's sons are you?" In a variation, a 
gardener attempted to stop Bethune' s trek across the White House lawn. He yelled, "Hey, there, 
Auntie, where y'all think your goin'?" After getting him straight, she strode on imperiously. 44 

In Birmingham Alabama, during the initial conference of the Southern Conference for 
Human Welfare in November 1938, Bethune put the necessity for proper titles on record. The 
details of the incident vary according to the writer. Close Bethune friend and trail-blazer 
Eugenia Hope recalled it this way. On the second day of the conference, Bethune seconded a 
motion. The chair, race liberal and Birmingham judge Louise Charlton, acknowledged her with 
"Mary." Seemingly, that passed Bethune by, Hope related, but not people on all sides of her. 
They repeated incredulously, "Mary?" From behind came the remark, "We can straighten that 



87 
out later." But those closest to Bethune, including Hope, advised, "Do it now!" By then 
Bethune had realized what had happened. She got the floor and stated that she didn't want 
"Mary of Florida" to be recorded; she was "Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune" and desired that in the 
minutes. "Well, the house came down," Hope told the 1938 NCNW annual meeting. "You 
might not have known that it was in the South. The white and colored people just applauded 
her." While later generations might think the incident inconsequential, white Alabama race 
liberal Virginia Durr reported that at the time it constituted "a big dividing line." An African 
American woman had insisted upon and received the title of "Mrs." in a public meeting in 

Birmingham. 45 

Ad Hoc Affairs 
As black people's representative, Bethune's light shone brightest in Washington, and 
then throughout the country. In 1939, for example, on her schedule tangential to NYA were both 
the typical and unusual. On November 27 th of that year, as "a representative of the Negro race," 
Bethune sat on a panel of seven at a town hall meeting in New York for "America's Town 
Meeting of the Air." The National Broadcasting Company carried the program nationwide over 
radio. At a time when communism and fascism blighted Europe and the Nazi blitzkrieg had 
launched World War II, the panelists spoke on "What Does American Democracy Mean to Me?" 
"Democracy is a goal toward which our nation is marching," Bethune asserted. "It is a dream 
and an ideal in whose ultimate realization we have a deep and abiding faith." That was 
something to ponder. 46 

Earlier that spring, during April 26 th to May 10 th , Bethune attended the 900-delegate 
Methodist conclave in Kansas City, Missouri. The South Florida Conference of the Methodist 



88 
Church had sent this Methodist College president as a delegate. It was a historic gathering, 
reuniting mainstream northern and southern branches of Methodism that had split in the 
antebellum period over slavery. During the proceedings, when the conference secretary uttered 
the epithet "nigger," Bethune, one of 44 African American delegates, immediately protested, as 
did another. This elicited the Secretary's loud apology. On the last day of the meeting, on 
another note, Bethune presented roses to the Atlanta area's departing white bishop and his wife 
as a token of the love, appreciation, and confidence of his African American flock. A black 
bishop was destined to replace him because the new church had segregated virtually all African 
American members—about 300,000—into their own administrative jurisdiction. 47 

In Washington during '39, the most momentous event for many was contralto Marian 
Anderson's legendary Easter Sunday concert at the Lincoln Memorial. The site came at the last 
minute. Desiring to host an Anderson concert but having no adequate facility, the Howard 
University Concert Series Committee first requested Constitution Hall. Its owner, the Daughters 
of the American Revolution, refused because Anderson's dark skin. Disgusted, Eleanor 
Roosevelt resigned from the organization. Then, the District of Columbia school board barred 
Anderson from the Central High School auditorium, again due to race. At the Metropolitan 
AME Church on M Street, between 15 th and 16 th Streets Northwest, the Marion Anderson 
Citizens' Committee led a protest rally against this action. Bethune was a featured speaker. 
Anderson had then planned to sing in a municipal park, but Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes, 
rescued her from that by offering the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 

On April 9, 1939, an unprecedented seventy-five thousand people, Bethune included, 
thrilled to a voice heard "once in a hundred years." Bethune believed "the reverence and the 



89 
concentration of the throngs told a greater story" than the numbers and "magnificent voice." 

"Something happened in all of our hearts," she confessed to Attorney Charles Houston. "It 

cannot be described in words. There is no way." "Through the Marian Anderson protest 

concert," she maintained "we [African Americans] made our triumphant entry into the 

democratic spirit of American life." On the evening of the concert, when Anderson greeted 

seven hundred guests at a Howard University faculty wives' reception, Bethune stood in the 

receiving line beaming. 48 

Prior to '39, Eleanor Roosevelt had begun to extend Bethune's role as a representative of 
the people. She suggested her, for example, for membership on the President's Special 
Committee on Farm Tenancy. 49 Formulated in November 1936, it was to develop "a long-term 
program of action to alleviate the shortcomings of the farm-tenancy system." Considering that 
tenancy was often coupled with soil depletion and low living standards, much needed alleviating 
and for many people. More than half of the 6,800,000 farmers in the U.S. were tenants. They 
consisted of cash renters, share tenants who supplied more than labor for a split of crops with 
owners, and sharecroppers who offered only their labor for crop splits. The 700,000 Southern 
black tenants were of particular interest to the blacks on the committee: Fisk University 
sociologist Charles S. Johnson, Tuskegee Institute President Frederick D. Patterson, and Mary 
Bethune. 

Bethune's appointment to the Tenancy Committee occasioned unfavorable questioning. 
Mack Robb of Daytona Beach wrote to Washington that the committee needed a white Floridian 
also because as an African American, Bethune could not represent the state's white population. 
The White House replied that the selection of committee personnel was made with utmost care 



90 
and without regard to state lines. "Mrs. Bethune was chosen because of her interest in and 
knowledge of Farm Tenancy as it concerns the Negro population and not because she was a 
resident of Florida." Here was formal acknowledgment of Bethune 's broad race representative 
function. 50 

As a Tenancy Committee member, Bethune spoke for "the man fartherest down." She 
emphasized "that mass of tenants who do not know when they are protected. I am thinking of 
the people," she declared, "who have not had sufficient training to make their own 
arrangements. ... I am hoping that in the set-up of this program and your findings here, that 
something may be thought out that will go as a safeguard and a protection for the helpless mass 
of tenants." She continued, "Now, that to me is a very definite and serious point. My own 
experience, my own contacts with the masses of my own people in this field of living, makes 
this to me one of the most important things that this Committee should think about." In 
response, Agriculture Secretary and Committee Chair Henry a. Wallace suggested that the 
Resettlement Administration's county supervisors and their associates, the home supervisors, 
were already applying themselves along such lines. But Bethune countered quickly that they 
were too few. She wanted enough supervisors to match the needs of the most disadvantaged 
rural Americans. 

A few weeks later, Bethune submitted to the committee specific recommendations 
bearing upon potential beneficiaries of federal assistance. These dealt with peonage, education, 
the selection of farm operators, participants in the homestead and rehabilitation loan programs, 
and local boards of arbitration. The thrust of these suggestions—greater federal supervision at 
the expense of states and localities—offered that "safeguard and protection for the helpless mass 



91 
of tenants" about which she had spoken. 51 In line with this, the committee wrote into its report 

that civil servants free from local political domination should administer tenancy funds. 

Subsequently, Roosevelt asked Congress to enact this provision into law. On three separate 

occasions, however, Southern Congressmen blocked it. They and their cohorts preferred that 

tenant aid be dispersed on the basis of political expediency, not need, and in such a way that 

blacks received the least. 

Despite this development, some African American farm tenants experienced greater 
federal assistance when the Farm Security Administration was established in July 1937. It 
originated, in part, to implement the committee's recommendations as encompassed in the 
Bankhead- Jones Farm Tenant Act. The South's foremost interracial pioneer Will W. Alexander, 
who had conceived of the Tenancy Committee and had occupied its center until the work 
culminated in a final report, headed the new FSA. It made special efforts to reach black family 
farmers. When in 1939, representative black leaders, including Bethune, formally examined the 
agency's work, they were encouraged. Yet with only a minimal budget relative to the 
Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the imperative to consider credit worthiness in making 
loans, and the necessity to acknowledge political power realities, Alexander's program could 
help only very limited numbers of rural indigents. 52 

Organized for Years 

While the Farm Tenancy Committee was a one-time effort for Bethune, the Southern 
Conference for Human Welfare, existing for ten years, offered an opportunity for her to function 
over an extended period as a "Representative of the People,"sometimes substantively and 
sometimes symbolically. During November 20-23, 1938, through the leadership of Joseph 



92 
Gelders and his National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners, it drew together in 
Birmingham, Alabama, the major city of the New South's industrial order, Southern liberals of 
all stripes and especially those close to the Roosevelt Administration. Numbering from two 
hundred to three hundred, blacks constituted about 20 percent of the total. First Lady Eleanor 
Roosevelt had insisted on their presence and Bethune's in particular. In the warm glow of each 
other's company, amid prayer and singing and speeches from the likes of ER, University of 
North Carolina president Frank P. Graham, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, these 
liberals— educators, laborites, managers, politicos, journalists, students—found aid and comfort. 
Using as a primary reference the federal government's Report on the Economic Conditions of 
the South, by way of resolutions they expressed opinions on agriculture, industrial problems, 
civil liberties, and state and federal initiatives. The excitement was so great that it was generally 
understood that this middle class, white-led organization would be permanent. Frank Graham 
was elected chairman. Thirteen vice-chairmen, each representing a southern state were elected 
also; and to give blacks visibility, two vice chairmen at large, Mary Bethune and John P. Davis 
of the National Negro Congress. Vividly summing up the gathering, writer-participant Sterling 
Brown exclaimed, "The South is on the move. The hind wheel may be off and the axle 
dragging, but the old cart is moving." 

The conference wanted to avoid isolating race as an issue. If it were perceived as a civil 
rights organization, its hope of a mass following was doomed and even many liberals would 
leave. Consequently, delegates registered no complaint about institutionalized racial segregation 
and used the term racial justice, as opposed to racial equality. In the process of elevating the 
region as a whole, the Southern Conference would improve the quality of life for blacks. The 



93 
Old South wouldn't have it. On the second day of the proceedings, Birmingham Police 

Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor—the same lawman who would achieve notoriety in the 

1960's for abusing civil rights demonstrators--and his entire force converged on the City 

Auditorium to enforce the city's segregation ordinances. 53 Eugenia Hope believed that 

Bethune's insistence on being recognized as "Mrs." explained the timing of the police. 

Although blacks boycotted the Monday evening session in the auditorium, the next day 
the conference settled into whites on one side of the aisle and blacks on the other. Bethune 
entered on the arm of Aubrey Williams. "You know what those white people thought [about a 
white man escorting a black woman in a public forum]," Hope related to race sisters. "And Mrs. 
Roosevelt was there and when Mrs. Bethune came in, Mrs. Roosevelt almost took her in her 
arms. There wasn't a sound; they [whites] were so shocked." Hope also ticked off conference 
resolutions particularly relevant to African Americans: no more SCHW meetings in cities that 
enforced segregated seating; anti-lynching legislation; and justice for "the Scottsboro boys," who 
had been unjustly incarcerated in Alabama for raping a white woman. 54 

Other SCHW biennial meetings lacked the drama of the first one in Birmingham because 
no ruckus developed over who would sit where. White courageous leaders, whom other whites 
frequently ostracized, viewed "economic equality as the most important issue for eliminating all 
the South's major ills." SCHW's lasting contribution, according to scholar Linda Reed, was 
"raising the national consciousness toward creating a new and democratic South and the more 
specific issue of civil rights." While using radio talk shows, numerous speeches and conferences, 
it relied primarily on educational material and written protest. The organization led the way in 
advocating what could and should be done, even though the later black direct action protest 



94 
movement was the critical factor in turning idealism into reality. 55 

Bethune stayed with SCHW almost its entire life span. On April 20, 1942, in Nashville, 
the organization presented her with the coveted Thomas Jefferson Award, a recognition of the 
Southerner who had contributed the most to the South. It gave the same honor to Frank Porter 
Graham. Media magnet Eleanor Roosevelt presented the prizes. Mary McLeod Bethune 's 
award marked a psychological advance for the South. It contributed to whites' increasing 
awareness of the possible legitimacy of black heros and heroines on par with those of 
contemporary whites. After 1942, Bethune became more active in the Southern Conference: 
attending board meetings, contributing to the Washington Committee, and writing for The 
Patriot, the official organ. 56 To bolster its sagging finances and recruit more members, she 
voluntarily undertook a tour of five southern states, speaking in nine cities between January 16 
and 27, 1946. She provided the organization a shot in the arm that it needed. 57 Two years later, 
SCHW disintegrated over members' decidedly different preferences in the '48 election. Some 
favored Henry Wallace; others, Harry Truman. 

While an asset to the SCHW, Bethune was critical to focusing attention of racial 
inequities in the nation's capital during the Roosevelt period. She did so as a self-appointed race 
leader in Washington, beginning shortly after her arrival there in '36. Actually, the government 
had previously filled such a position. As early as June 1933, when the government's immediacy 
in average citizens' lives was becoming ever more apparent, interracial ists Will W. Alexander, 
Edwin Embree, and Charles S. Johnson conceived of a race representative at large, or "a 
generalissimo of Negro welfare," within the federal bureaucracy. It required someone in 
government to keep tract of proliferating federal programs, to devise strategies by which blacks 



95 
could obtain a fair share of benefits from them, and to work towards implementation. With FDR 

approving the concept, a white Atlanta liberal became "Special Assistant on Negro Affairs" in 

Harold Ickes' Department of Interior. Though rendering yeoman services, Clark Foremen, later 

a president of the SCHW, was unable to effect coordination across departmental lines, as 

reflected in the demise of the Interdepartmental Group on the Special Problems of the Negro 

shortly after its creation in 1934. 58 

Recognizing the impossibility of succeeding as an at large race leader without expert 
assistance from highly educated and clear thinking younger people who understood government 
operations and were predisposed to advance black interests, Bethune organized the Federal 
Council on Negro Affairs, generally known as the Black Cabinet. In this way, as one 
contemporary noted, "She made sure that she was constantly surrounded by able people. This 
was important because her entire operations depended on people who could advise and counsel 
her." Continuing, Reginald A. Johnson of the National Urban League, declared, "This was the 
secret of Mrs. Bethune 's success, because she was a good listener and able interpreter of the 
suggestions given to her by many able people." 

The Black Cabinet was made possible by the New Deal's recruitment into government of 
black advisers. As an assistant to Clark Foreman in the Interior Department, Robert Weaver, 
with a Harvard doctorate in economics, entered first. More than a hundred black professionals 
followed. They personified the regeneration of an African American political presence that had 
been lacking in the nation's capital since the end of Reconstruction. Collectively, these 
appointees were possibly the most important racial symbol of the New Deal. Working closely 
with the NAACP's Walter White and the YMCA's Charming Tobias, and other national leaders, 



96 
the Black Cabinet became "the Washington arm of national Negro leadership." 59 

"Coordinating the efforts and the work of the federal government agencies represented in 
the membership," was the aim of Bethune's Federal Council. Its very existence tended to 
sensitize government officials and others to civil rights. This Black Brain Trust affected public 
attitudes notably through considerable input into the two NYA-sponsored national conferences 
in the 1930's. Specifically, in that decade it grappled most with Civil Service discrimination. It 
contributed to the new Civil Service rules in the next decade that prohibited policies permitting 
the most flagrant discrimination: an application with photo and race designation; and the rule-of- 
three, which allowed an employer to by-pass the most qualified job applicant by hiring any of 
the top three. 

Informality riddled the Black Cabinet. No government authorization existed for it and 
members were not officially designated liaisons of their employing agencies. Although 
members made studies, submitted reports, and sometimes listened to speakers, the organization 
was mostly an informal networking of minority personnel to advance common concerns. When 
on an announced schedule, the council met monthly. Cognizant that usually off-the-record 
deliberations best promoted its interest, the group chose to forego letterheads and kept 
paperwork to a minimum. 

Scarce documents, however, identify the Black Cabinet's membership as it existed in 
September 1939. It included twenty-seven men and three women in seven traditional agencies 
and in seven more recent ones created by the New Deal. In the former were the Departments of 
Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Justice, Labor (including the District of Columbia's 
Employment Service), Post Office, and Treasury; in the latter, the NYA, Civilian Conservation 



97 
Corps, Farm Security Administration, Farm Credit Agency, Wages and Hours Board, U.S. 

Housing Authority, and Works Progress Administration. The New Deal agencies employed the 

majority of council members. The three officers resided in them: chairperson Bethune in NYA, 

vice-chairperson Robert Weaver in Housing, and Secretary Dutton Ferguson in WPA. With five 

and four members respectively, Housing and the WPA claimed the most council members. 

The cabineteers carried different job titles—civil engineer, junior counselor, editor, 
attorney, supervisor~but the largest numbers were "adviser" and "assistant." Job titles aside, at 
least two-thirds worked on the black phase of their employers' programs. As such, they 
endeavored to influence their respective agencies' policies in the interest of blacks; to respond to 
complaints, suggestions, and inquiries from their constituency; to increase black government 
employment; to collect and disseminate data, generally on black progress; and to boost the New 
Deal. During the second world war, cabinet members were pre-occupied with promoting black 
employment both in government and war industries. 60 

Mary McLeod Bethune 's own needs in NYA prompted her to convene the first Black 
Cabinet meeting on August 7, 1936. Speaking to Weaver, Dewey Jones, and H.L. Trigg from the 
Interior Department, her NYA assistant Frank Home, WPA's Alfred E. Smith and J. A. Atkins, 
and Labor Department's Lawrence Oxley, she explained, "I have been meeting large numbers of 
interracial groups . . . where more than 2,000 people gathered .... I have been asked what the 
Negroes are doing in Washington." To answer this repeated query, she proposed that they 
distribute "a piece of literature." 

But Bethune had invited the seven bureaucrats to her abode at 3 16 T Street in northwest 
Washington for broader and long-range purposes. "We have a greater opportunity than the 



98 
representatives in the individual states. We have had a chance to look down the stream of the 
forty-eight states and evaluate the type of work and positions secured by Negroes," she 
announced. "The responsibility rests upon us. We can get better results by thinking together 
and planning together. We must think about each other's problems," this leader maintained. 
"Let us band together and work together as one big brotherhood and give momentum to the great 

ball that is starting to roll for Negroes I feel helpless without the fellowship, interest and 

cooperation of all of you." 

Working together meant that each person shared specific facts and experiences derived 
from his office; conversely, it meant that each forgot about his particular job in order to "think, 
in terms as a 'whole' for the greatest service to our people," Bethune declared. Other than 
publicizing African Americans in the New Deal, Bethune proposed that the council try to obtain 
outstanding black projects. "The exceptional things have been done for white people," she 
noted. "Let us get some of the exceptional things done for the Negroes." Also, she wanted the 
council to prioritize black needs. This had to be a collective endeavor. In general terms, the 
council was to keep before the government and the general public, white and black, that the 
nation's largest minority was an integral part of the country, participating in government 
programs, and requiring greater equity in services. 61 

Just as Bethune called the Black Cabinet into being, an achievement that Robert Weaver 
confessed that he had unsuccessfully attempted, she held it together over seven years with in iron 
fist inside a velvet glove. She received a big assist from Weaver, particularly in the 1940's when 
she fought debilitating illnesses. They got along well. In 1938, when Weaver wanted her 
Assistant Director to join his housing staff, Bethune asked Eleanor Roosevelt to informally say 



99 
to the Housing Authority Chief Nathan Straus that she favored the move. This sealed Frank 

Home's transfer. Robert Weaver, the future Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban 

Development, led his council colleagues in developing analyses and program proposals. While 

encouraging that process, Bethune listened attentively at meetings, for her forte was articulating 

and dramatizing ideas. Referring to this intrepid leader as the voice of the Black Brain Trust, 

Weaver reflected, "Mrs. Bethune used her contacts and personality to dramatize the problems we 

faced so that our proposals would be considered. She supplied a flamboyant and well connected 

personality to render our efforts newsworthy .... she was extremely effective." 62 

At times, however, Bethune flailed the wind, even while demonstrating her willingness 
"to go to the front" in critical circumstances, as in 1942 for Odell Waller, a black Virginia 
sharecropper who killed his white landlord under extenuating circumstances. When punishment 
came down to the wire, writer Roi Ottley reported that Bethune called the White House at one 
o'clock in the morning seeking a stay of execution. She reached Eleanor Roosevelt, who 
awaken the President. After a consultation with the Attorney General, the White House informed 
Bethune that the federal government lacked jurisdiction in the matter. The next morning, Waller 
was executed. 

On other occasions, as the voice of the Black Cabinet, Bethune 's words to the influential 
reaped positive results. In the same year as the Waller case, powerful whites wanted Detroit's 
Sojourner Truth federal housing project previously certified for African Americans changed to 
white occupancy, and pressured Washington accordingly. The government acquiesced. At that 
point the Black Cabinet intervened, putting the welfare of constituents above concern for 
members' jobs. By cooperating with the black press and political and religious leaders, it 



100 
orchestrated the indignant arousal of blacks throughout the country. The black protest and 
betterment groups petitioned the Housing Authority, even sending people to Washington. A 
crisis was developing. According to plan, Bethune contacted Eleanor Roosevelt. Shortly 
thereafter, the Sojourner Truth Homes became available to black tenants. The work of the Black 
Cabinet elicited comment on the floor of the House of Representatives. Having worked 
unsuccessfully for a white Sojourner Truth project, Michigan Congressman Tenerowicz, 
inquired if "the membership of the House must consult this new agency, the Black Cabinet, 
regarding any and all racial questions." 63 

One Proposal after Another 

The Black Cabinet was indispensable in staging two influential black meetings during 
the New Deal, called the National Conferences on the Problems of the Negro and Negro Youth. 
They were held on January 6-8, 1937, and January 12-14, 1939, at the Labor Department, site of 
several NYA Advisory meetings. Administrator Aubrey Williams had balked when Bethune 
initially proposed that NYA sponsor such a gathering because an all-encompassing airing of 
black problems transcended the scope of the agency. Even so, NYA underwrote the meetings. 
Williams and ER were among the first of an impressive number of administration 
representatives to address them. 

The conferences marked the first occasions large numbers of black experts had come to 
Washington at government expense to offer counsel; whereas, whites had been doing so for 
years and continued to come for meetings of the Advisory Committee on Education, the 
National Emergency Council, and the like. The black executives represented a broad spectrum 
of the black community. They came as bureaucrats, journalists, business mangers, clergymen, 



101 
educators, and organizational leaders-including some from the National Council of Negro 

Women. Participating at the 1937 parley were eighty-three conferees and twenty consultants; at 

the second in '39, two hundred and twenty conferees, thirty-five consultants and approximately 

fifty visitors. 

In part the meetings aimed to fulfill an objective that Bethune had announced at the first 
cabinet conclave; namely, the collective prioritization of black needs. Also, it was to suggest 
pragmatic remedies for government action. The '37 conference presented the first opportunity 
for African Americans to propose "a comprehensive program for the full integration [of African 
Americans] into the benefits and the responsibilities of American democracy." The '39 
assemblage was to evaluate the progress of African Americans since the last conference, to 
emphasize special difficulties amenable to government redress, and to explore the impact of new 
legislation. Mary Bethune personally delivered the conference reports to President Roosevelt. 
NYA distributed copies to the cabinet, the Congress, others in government, and selected private 
sector groups. When sent to an agency chief whose program was the subject of conference 
recommendations, the pertinent recommendations were marked. 64 

The conference framed deliberations into four divisions: personal security and equal 
protection under the law; health and housing; education and recreation; and employment. 
Regarding the pre-eminent problem of employment in a depression economy, the body chiefly 
proposed equitable opportunities for apprenticeship training, discarding policies promoting 
discrimination in Civil Service jobs, standardized wages for domestic workers, extending Social 
Security benefits to domestic and agricultural workers, and fair employment practice in the 
government, army, navy, and all federally funded projects, including the Tennessee Valley 



102 
Authority. Among other policies, the conference recommended a federal anti-lynching law, 
enfranchisement, non-discrimination on interstate carriers, a federal offensive against 
tuberculosis and syphilis, black-staffed health centers in black communities, equal access to 
hospitals for all veterans, black involvement as tenants and managers in federal housing, 
equitable inclusion of blacks in suburban communities subsidized by the Resettlement 
Administration, equitable education dollars, and inclusion of recreational and educational 
centers in all public housing projects. 65 

During the Roosevelt years, no other civil rights summit generated the excitement of the 
1937 meeting. Bethune's statement on "the tremendous historic possibilities of our 
deliberations" mirrored the thinking of participants. One journalist hailed the leadership forum 
as "the most successful conference of colored people ever held in the capital." It crafted "a 
single, clearly-stated program for the Federal government as it touches upon each phase of 
colored life—a program that is simple yet complete, visionary and yet thoroughly concrete." The 
NAACP Crisis asserted, "The conference went on record as demanding that the government take 
the lead and set the example by abolishing racial segregation in all its departments, divisions, 
and branches, and that it refrain from lending its support to the extension of segregation in the 
United States." Where desegregation was not possible, because of the Supreme Court's 1896 
Plessy Decision permitting a state to segregate races, the summit wanted real equality of 
opportunity for African Americans wherever racial segregation legally existed. Moreover, the 
Crisis noted that the tone of the recommendations were unusual for a government-sponsored 
affair. "There was no mincing of works and no 'pulling of punches' and no smoothing down the 
condemnation of present practices." From the perspective of about a half century, historian 



103 
Joseph Earl Taylor writes that the conference proposals "represented a reasonable program of 
reform commensurate with the democratic ideals of equality and fairness. The 
recommendations sought changes in matters where the Federal Government exercised authority 
and in services which it subsidized." Also, he concluded, the black leaders "consistently 
requested and expected to have a role in plotting their own destiny," for they did not desire that 
African Americans become government wards. 66 

The first conference was a coming out party of sorts for the Black Cabinet; and for 
Bethune, who in the words of labor leader A. Philip Randolph presided with "dignity, grace, 
ability and vision." It "marked the first time since the President came into the White House that 
the colored Americans he appointed to big jobs were able to get together and agree on any 
logical program for his consideration," Associated Negro Press columnist Edward Lawson 
explained. In the past "bickerings and petty jealousies had split the so-called 'Black Cabinet' 
into many factions" but now its members were pledged to the reforms encapsulated in 
conference recommendations. Lawson marveled that through "sheer personality" Bethune had 
drawn the "whole 'Black Cabinet' together, first for a series of meetings" then for the 
conference. 

Obviously, Mary Bethune had taken Washington by storm. Blacks had been either 
"unaware of her tremendous energy and grasp of things or they underestimated the potential 
power of her position." In six months "Mrs. Bethune has gathered everything and everybody 
under her very ample wing. Today-with the possible exception of Congressman Arthur W. 
Mitchell—she occupies undoubtedly the most strategic position in the administration simply 
because she has managed to bring together for unified thought and action all of the colored 



104 
people high in government authority," Lawson maintained. "Only one who has been in 
Washington for some time can understand what a big order that was." 67 He could have added 
that "colored people high in government authority" were men. Later, another journalist 
assessed Bethune's accomplishment similarly. "When leaders of the male persuasion quibbled 
as to distinctive titles and full-fledged authority," he reported, "Mrs. Bethune quietly assumed a 
leadership in the national movements that represented constructive racial endeavor." 68 At any 
rate, the Black Cabinet and the National Conferences on the Problems of the Negro and Negro 
Youth insured that Bethune was well-informed on the whole spectrum of black life, especially in 
relation to possible government enhancement. She could speak authoritatively from within a 
broad black consensus. 

Concentrating on talking with influential government administrators, Bethune sometimes 
carried proposals straight to the President Roosevelt. ER later stated, "She [Bethune] had a great 
deal of influence with the President, who had complete trust in whatever she told him as it 
affected the young people of her race while she was working in the NYA." Bethune, however, 
requested Roosevelt to consider matters beyond youth also, especially lynching, 
disfranchisement, and federally funded discrimination. Given his inaction in these areas, she 
tried small, piece-meal steps to civil rights, primarily in the strategic employment of blacks in 
the federal establishment. At 1 1: 45 a.m., Friday, January 12, 1940, for example, with "only 
God, the President and myself present," she later announced, Bethune discussed several 
proposals with Franklin D. Roosevelt. According to the New York Amsterdam News, she asked 
the President to consider appointing black federal judges and black men to the military 
academies at West Point and Annapolis. Although almost 13,000,000 Americans of African 



105 
ancestry constituted about one-tenth of the country's population, only one black federal judge 
held court, only three black cadets studied and trained at West Point, while no black midshipmen 
did so at Annapolis. Also, Bethune recommended reform in Civil Service to ameliorate 
discrimination. In 1940, only a minuscule fraction of federal employees above the janitorial 
level were African Americans. Addressing the needs of the ebony masses more specifically, she 
called for "fuller representation in the Agriculture Department." 

This intrepid race leader may have discussed more, for about this time she had prepared a 
memorandum for the President on "Some of the Things Negroes Desire." It requested not only 
action in the judiciary, War Department, and Civil Service, but the appointment of blacks 
elsewhere. These ranged from positions in the recently established Council on Personnel 
Administration to overhaul the government's personnel system to the more staid programs of the 
Commerce and Labor Departments. Additionally, Bethune contended for the restoration of jobs 
to blacks which they had once filled, including Register of the Treasury, Minister to Haiti, 
auditor of the navy, and collectors of customs in New York, Charleston and other ports. 69 
Seemingly, such matters appeared peripheral to FDR in relation to governing the broader 
society. Nevertheless, as a race liaison during this era Bethune had to make her case. She had to 
"get in" and "stay in" with white leadership as it existed in order to win concessions for blacks 
in a system skewed against them. She understood that sometimes concessions impacting 
minority welfare could be gained. Bethune's specific success in obtaining jobs for African 
Americans either through Franklin or Eleanor Roosevelt may not be measured, even though she 
favored Earl Dickerson for the Fair Employment Practices Committee and he was appointed; 
and a black aide in Selective Service and the War Department, which Campbell Johnson and 



106 
William Hastie respectively fulfilled. Certainly her support never hurt a candidate and was 
factored into decision-making. Nevertheless, it is difficult to determine its impact. 70 
Roosevelt Partisan 

As a federal administrator, the price Bethune had to pay for such access to the President 
and his team was loyalty and touting their works. She gladly complied. She believed that FDR 
was the best political leader since Abraham Lincoln and the New Deal was moving blacks 
forward along with the rest of the country. She preached, for example, "I'll Never Turn Back 
No More!," meaning that she would not forego the tangible benefits of New Deal programs. 
Politically, she thought that African Americans were "climbing steadfastly up the right side of 
the mountain." 71 When the U.S. declared war three years later, Bethune was even more 
emphatic about following Roosevelt's leadership. 

Despite foolish prejudices and discriminations, we 
as Negroes must move in and offer our services and 
demand the right to serve shoulder to shoulder with 
our fellow Americans—just as we have always done. 

America need us. . . . To deprive America's 
production efforts of needed skilled hands 
because these hands are black is to thrust a knife 
of disloyalty into the back of Uncle Sam. . . . All 
of us can serve, and we must. . . . We are as ready 
and capable as any other American group. . . . 
TfflS IS AMERICA'S WAR. AND WE TOO, 
ARE AMERICANS. 72 

During both the New Deal and the war, patriot Bethune proved herself decisively 

partisan. She gave speeches in Roosevelt's presidential campaigns and attended his 

inaugurations. She began campaigning for him on October 26, 1936, through an address over 

CBS radio titled "A Tribute to Franklin Delano Roosevelt," sponsored by the Progressive 



107 
National Committee and Labor's Non-Partisan League. The next morning, thousands of requests 
for her speech poured into Washington from every state in the union. In 1940, Bethune's 
contribution to Roosevelt's re-election centered in part on what she did not do. She did not 
comply to the administration's request to hold another National Negro Conference under NYA 
sponsorship. She confided to Aubrey Williams, "We do not have sufficient ground to stand 
upon to ward off the bombardment from the opposition." In other words, the administration had 
failed to sufficiently advance a black agenda. In 1944, Bethune chaired the National Non- 
Partisan Committee for the Re-election of Roosevelt, a black organization. Also, she served as a 
vice-chair of the National Citizens Political Action Committee, Women's Division for New 
York, essentially white. 73 

Regardless of Bethune's partisanship, she denied it emphatically. While this may have 
stemmed from the Hatch Act's prohibition against administrative employees engaging in 
politics, more likely it derived from Bethune's sensitivity to her race representative functions- 
functions well-served by neutrality as to party or philosophy, or at least alleging such. After all, 
Bethune represented a people who, according to Gunnar Myrdal, u seem to be held in a state of 
eternal preparedness for a great number of contradictory opinions—ready to accept one type or 
another depending upon how they are driven by the pressures or where they see an opportunity." 
Anyway, Bethune denied a rumor in 1939 that she would work for the National Democratic 
Party by explaining, "I am not in politics. I am here as an educator. I am here as an interpreter 
of my people. I am here making contacts for them. I never made a political speech, I have never 
been asked to make one." Obviously, Bethune could contradict herself as other political 
operatives. 74 



108 
Bethune's attachment to the Roosevelts was rooted in intense admiration for them, 
especially Eleanor. She and the First Lady became close primarily through NYA, the latter' s pet 
agency. The Mary Bethune-Eleanor Roosevelt relationship was a rare, public and private 
interracial friendship at a time of unyielding racial segregation and discrimination. They both 
eschewed first name familiarity, however, so as to avoid a misunderstanding of the respect each 
tendered the other. ER had to work on the relationship, learning to kiss the dark-skinned 
Bethune good-by, just as she did her friends of lighter hue. Beyond NYA, ER involved Bethune 
in a cross-section of administration concerns and when a matter crossed ER's desk about which 
Bethune could be helpful-usually dealing with African Americans-she called on her, just as she 
did other women allies, or the NAACP's Walter White and the Urban League's T. Arnold Hill. 75 

For her part, having very close white women friends before she came to Washington, 
Bethune warmed up to ER immediately, relaying pertinent information to her, including 
numerous invitations to speak from African Americans. At times, she requested the First Lady 
to contact the President about a given matter. More often, Bethune asked her to intercede with 
administration officials to facilitate action on specified projects impacting blacks, including 
hospital and housing developments. Usually, ER obliged. On occasion, this intervention 
translated into immediate progress, as in the cases of a housing project and a Women's Army 
Corps Training Center in Daytona Beach, Bethune's home town. But typically, Bethune gained 
primarily a better understanding of the status of a given situation. Additionally, Bethune deeply 
enmeshed ER in the affairs of Bethune-Cookman College and the National Council of Negro 
Women. 

The women's friendship was close enough for Bethune to have visited the White House 



109 
so often, for example, that she didn't even bother putting on a resume participation in the 1939 
White House Conference on Children in a Democracy. After all, it constituted only a fraction of 
her White House schedule. In contrast, she had ballyhooed to high heaven her attendance at 
Herbert Hoover's Conference on Child Health and Protection in 1930. Bethune felt comfortable 
enough with ER to ask her to come to Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital in April 1940 to 
discuss important matters. A pending sinus operation along with unhealthy preexisting 
conditions for surgery meant Bethune 's confinement for two months. "I have a private room and 
will be allowed visitors at any time," she wrote her friend. "My mind is clear. . ." ER sent 
flowers weekly. Her hectic schedule could be stretched only so far. 76 

The closeness between Mary Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt was one thing; it was 
another between Bethune and the President. Prior to the White House, he had no history of 
addressing the unfair treatment of minorities. As president, his closest aides-Louis Howe, 
Marvin Mclntyre, and Stephen Early—could care less about the status of blacks and shielded him 
as much as possible from considering it. Roosevelt even turned over his favorite New Deal 
initiative, the Civilian Conservation Corps, to the respectable Southern racist, Robert Fechner, 
who, helped by the army, typically treated blacks either applying for the Corps or in it unseemly. 
Actions promoting equitable black participation in New Deal benefits stemmed from 
Roosevelt's wife and a handful of program directors, notably Harold Ickes, W. Frank Persons, 
Harry Hopkins, Aubrey Williams, Hallie Flanagan, Nathan Strauss, John M. Carmody, Will 
Alexander, and Rexford G. Tugwell. While Roosevelt issued the celebrated Executive Order 
8802, banning employment discrimination in government and defense industries, he did so 
grudgingly and in the face of irresistible pressure. His dealings with Bethune were a notable 



110 
exception to his low-profile racial stance. Outside of NYA, these may be interpreted as mostly 
symbolic, rather than substantive. When at Bethune's request in November 1941, ER asked her 
husband to appoint an African American to the White House staff for race relations, he replied, 
"noway." 77 

Yet if one believed Bethune, especially in "My Secret Talks with FDR," it was Franklin 
Roosevelt who possessed the expansive social commitments animating Eleanor Roosevelt! 
When discussing the President, Bethune tended to emphasize his great humanitarianism, 
especially in relation to intangibles. In 1937, she saw in his words "fair play and justice to all." 
She stated after his death, "Had he lived I am convinced that he would have launched new, bold 
offensives against bigotry and Jim Crow everywhere." Moreover, Bethune put the best spin 
possible on her relationship to the President. This could have stemmed from a desire for prestige 
or simply gratitude for NYA. But most fundamentally, it represented a premier technique for 
making bricks without straw through words, well placed. She used it regularly with the 
influential who might assist her. In January 1943, for example, to Paul V. McNutt, chairman of 
the Fair Employment Practices Committee, she expressed faith in him when she had doubts. 
Bethune wrote, "I want you to understand that I have the utmost confidence in you and your 
relationship to my people and the deepest appreciation for what you have done in the past and 
what you will do in the future." Earlier, she had revealed another attitude to an Alabama black 
editor: "The President has placed the entire Fair Employment Practice Committee under the 
directing hand of Mr. McNutt. I think political pressure has brought this about. In my mind, it 
seems that the whole thing will not be as active, yet we cannot tell how things will work out." n 

Even though Bethune's less than candid technique lacked effect with McNutt, it achieved 



Ill 

results elsewhere. She derived plenty of mileage from projecting closeness to FDR. Clarence 
Mitchell elucidated, "Often it wasn't so much of what you had in the way of authorization by the 
President, but to some extent it was what people thought you had by way of authorization. And 
she was very good at that." Cognizant of her friendship with ER, federal officials thought that 
perhaps she might influence the President's view of them. Consequently, they were inclined to 
exhibit a cooperative attitude towards black America's most visible representative. 79 

In fact, Mary McLeod Bethune and Franklin D. Roosevelt enjoyed an easy-going 
relationship. He was comfortable with her. He believed, "that she had great wisdom and an 
amount of patience and lack of bitterness which was not only extraordinary but very helpful in 
dealing with the racial situation." On one visit for NYA funding support, she got so carried 
away that she shook her finger in his face. She felt free enough to "say anything" to him and on 
one occasion, they did "some almost dirty jokes," recalled West Virginia State College President 
John W. Davis, on a visit to the White House in the company of Bethune and Walter White. 
Then, Roosevelt "just started talking and you couldn't stop him." Finally, White intervened. 
According to Davis, White said something like, "Look here, Franklin Roosevelt, we've been in 
here so many minutes. . . . and that man is going to open that door in a minute and we are going 

to be put out of here, and we haven't asked our questions." Apparently turning to Bethune, FDR 

inquired, "All right, Mary, what do you want in here?" John Davis never gave the answer. 80 

While the purpose of that visit is unknown, it was probably something specific. Labor 
Department official Lawrence Oxley remembered that was the case when he accompanied 
Bethune into the Oval Office. They wanted Roosevelt to write a letter to cabinet members, 
requesting favorable consideration for releasing data to Bethune and her associates on minority 



112 
participation in their respective programs. Preferring them to exercise independence, Roosevelt 
said no. Such a letter meant, he suggested, that "I'm telling them what to do." At that point, 
Bethune took Roosevelt's hand, and talking to him as if "he were a little school boy," explained, 
"Mr. President, you haven't been listening." Putting his head back, smiling, and looking at her, 
Roosevelt replied, "Suppose you tell it to me again." She did. Afterwards, Oxley recalled, he 
summoned his secretary to dictate the statement Bethune had prepared. And, he sent it out. 81 
NYA Division Director 

On January 16, 1939, Civil Service made if official: Mary McLeod Bethune was no 
longer an administrative assistant but the director of the Division of Negro Affairs in the 
National Youth Administration. She later boasted that her division paralleled the agency's six 
others relative to salary schedules, grade levels, and the like. Her salary jumped from $5,200 to 
$6,000. Having started out in NYA in one room, she either occupied, or was on her way into 
four. This section has four components: the business of the director, the Communist smear 
against Bethune, the termination of NYA, and Bethune 's status afterwards. 

The Business of the Director 

When her division reached its height, Bethune supervised an assistant director, a public 
relations adviser, economist, administrative assistant, personal secretary and three stenographers. 
Throughout her NYA tenure, she enjoyed the invaluable services of aide Arabella Smith 
Denniston, a Daytona Beach native, who had received all of her education in Bethune's school. 
Unlike Denniston, Bethune's assistant directors were employed only for a season. In 1938, after 
Frank Home exited, academician-administrator O'Hara Lanier came. Successively following 
him were T. Arnold Hill, a twenty-five year veteran of the National Urban League, and Charles 



113 
Browning, a former exemplary administrative assistant to the Illinois NYA state director. All 

were top-notch. 82 

As Director of the Negro Division, on occasion Bethune stood between white 
administrators and protesting blacks, with both expecting her support. She had to champion 
black rights to be a race representative; conversely, she had to mostly uphold the white- 
dominated bureaucracy to be an effective employee. In a documented case, Bethune veered 
towards the latter side. In 1940, when George R. Vaughns, a black Californian, complained to 
Eleanor Roosevelt that his state NYA had practiced discrimination by eliminating its Negro 
Division and black assistant Vivian Osborne Marsh, he directed her to Bethune who knew "all 
the facts in the case." 

In replying to Roosevelt, Bethune declared that Marsh had performed excellently. Her 
facts then became as follows: "The policies, activities, and records of the NYA show definitely 
that discrimination because of race will not be, and has not been, tolerated .... There would be 
evidence of discrimination if the State Administration refused to employ Negroes in any 
capacity," which was not the case. Additionally, Bethune observed that given the divisiveness 
among black Califomians over the advisability of a Negro Division, the State Director was in a 
better position than she "to determine whether the Negro youth population is so scattered in the 
various sections of his state as to justify a Division of Negro Affairs." Records fail to reveal why 
Bethune stressed the general integrity of NYA when she understood well its shortcomings at 
state and local levels. Maybe this was only a public stance, while she exerted constructive 
internal pressure. Maybe she believed that black visibility in California was a losing battle and, 
consequently, she needed to conserve her moral weight for more promising ones Whatever the 



114 
truth, the situation illustrated the dilemma of a black leader in government. 83 

In the same year of the California controversy, 394 black administrative and supervisory 
officials worked in seventeen southern states and the District of Columbia. They and their 
colleagues throughout the country were the Negro Division's chief priorities. In 1941, black 
administrative assistants to state directors served in twenty-seven states, New York City and 
Washington, DC. Where assistants worked, typically more black youth enrolled in projects and 
received upgraded benefits. Until the state structure ended in '42, Bethune continued to support 
them. In that year, the entire state-based program, run by powerful state directors, was discarded 
in favor of a regional approach. The regional structure employed nine Negro Affairs 
Representatives who experienced challenges similar to the former state assistants. Whenever 
possible, Bethune strengthened their positions. 83 

When the state program ended in '42, all school aid ceased. Over seven years NYA had 
spent $169,538,854 on it. During the Depression, African Americans valued this NYA 
component most. While black students received NYA educational funds through regular 
channels, the Division of Negro Affairs was resourceful enough to administer, as it saw fit, a 
Special Higher Education Fund for them totaling $609,930 and aiding 4, 1 1 8. Additionally, when 
NYA acquired nominal jurisdiction over the Civilian Pilot Training Program, the Negro Division 
helped to smooth the way for black military pilots by facilitating the training of black college 
students. It assisted, for example, West Virginia State College, the first of six black institutions 
to offer flight training, in acquiring its first airplane. 84 

At the time NYA dropped school aid, its vocational component soared. Over its life, the 
agency poured $467,586,395 into vocational training. In keeping with NYA policies, the 



115 
Division of Negro Affairs facilitated the movement of blacks from recreational, agricultural, and 
personal service projects, in which they had been disproportionately enrolled, into state-of-the- 
art vocational training in construction, mechanical, and metal working projects. The most 
notable was the War Production Training Project at Wilberforce, Ohio. In 1942, this project had 
developed into one using equipment valued at about $250,000 to provide instruction in machine 
shop, sheet metal, radio, arc welding, and auto mechanics. In 1943, such NYA training was the 
most visible means by which young black women acquired skills for work in war industries. In 
fact, during the war years the NAACP Executive Secretary noted, "The N. Y.A. has offered the 
best opportunity for shop training and work experience according to modern industrial 
procedures which Negro youth could obtain." 

NYA's biggest break-through for African Americans in the war, however, centered on 
placing NYA trained workers in private employment. Greatly assisted in 1941 by the Executive 
Order banning discrimination in government and defense industries and with the Negro Division 
aiding in formulating basic policy for placement, the NYA shepherded thousands of African 
Americans into jobs previously denied them with major corporations, including Bell Aircraft, 
Buffalo, New York; Sun Shipbuilding, Chester Pennsylvania; and Radio Corporation of America 
in Camden, New Jersey. In 1942-43, through its interstate transfer plan, NYA transported more 
than three thousand trained African Americans to areas of labor shortages and temporarily 
housed them in regional induction centers until they found other lodging. Between May 1, 1942, 
and January 30, 1943, 963 males in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, participated in the largest 
induction project for blacks, which led to jobs in the Norfolk Navy Yard. 85 

Un-American 



116 

On October 10, 1942, the Oklahoma City Black Dispatch reported that Congressman 
Martin Dies, a conservative Texas Democrat chairing the House Un-American Activities 
Committee, created in 1938, had again smeared Mary McLeod Bethune as a communist, along 
with two other African Americans— William Pickens of the Treasury Department and E. Franklin 
Frazier of the Library of Congress and Howard University. In response, Bethune had cried fowl. 
The Federal Bureau of Investigation had already investigated her—interviewing her on April 14, 
1942— because of his earlier accusations, and had forwarded its results to her agency. On August 
26 th of that year, Assistant Administrator Watson B. Miller of the Federal Security 
Administration, in which NYA was a sub-unit, determined, "We find nothing in this [FBI] report 
showing the above employee [Bethune] was engaged in any activities which might properly be 
characterized as subversive or disloyal to our government." The report showed that Bethune had 
been mentioned in leftist publications, such as the Daily Worker, and in other print media trying 
to change the status quo, by, for example, striving for a permanent Fair Employment Practice 
Committee, and had been identified at one time with groups having communists members, 
including the American League for Peace and Democracy, American Youth Congress, National 
Negro Congress, and the youth organization of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare. 

While exonerated by her agency once, Dies kept harassing Bethune. He called on the 
government in February 1943 to oust her and thirty-seven others, whom he called "crackpot 
bureaucrats." It made no difference that previously, he had conducted "investigations" showing 
about 1,176 government workers to be communists, of which the Justice Department had 
determined that only in two cases was terminating employment justified. 86 Bethune got 



117 
renowned Washington attorney Charles Houston to help her. He declared, "It is preposterous for 

anyone to accuse Mrs. Bethune of subversive activities or participation in any program 

advocating the overthrow of our democratic form of government. I do not believe that Mr. Dies 

himself thinks that Mrs. Bethune is a Communist. She is a black woman holding an important 

government position," he maintained, "with influence in high governmental places, and for a 

black person to have such a position and such influence is to be ipso facto 'red' with Mr. Dies." 

More than a hundred of Bethune 's friends, about 10 percent white, wrote individual 

letters defending her. As requested by Bethune 's attorney, they repudiated Dies' charges by 

attesting to Bethune 's leadership and asserting that she "has never engaged in any subversive 

activities or knowingly associated with any other person engaged in subversive activities or 

endorsing a program of overthrow of our present democratic form of government." They sent 

these statements to Congressman John H. Kerr, North Carolina Democrat, chair of a Special 

Sub-Committee which was "to examine the evidence adduced before investigating committees 

or by agencies of the government" on employees, as to the completeness of the evidence. 

Charles S. Johnson's letter about Bethune was typical of those Kerr received. 



Mrs. Bethune is neither a "Communist" nor a 
"Crack-pot" as millions of Americans well know. 
Her activities began long before there was any cry of 
"Communist" and have continued unwaveringly and 
with only one end in view-that of being best able to 
serve the ill-fated children of the Negro race; and her 
long and inspiring life of service to Negro youth of 
America is in itself an eloquent testimony to the 
falsity of Mr. Dies' accusation. 87 



When Chairman Dies first branded Bethune a communist, she believed that it was 



118 
outlandish enough to ignore. It was difficult for her and others to defend themselves against an 
accuser clothed in legislative immunity. Congressman Dies could say whatever he wanted 
without any accountability. Nevertheless, in time Bethune understood that she had to speak out 
against his malicious attack. 

If Rep. Dies sees fit to name me a communist, as a result 
of my outspoken belief in a true democracy under our 
American form of government, my incessant efforts in 
seeking for all Americans the constitutionally guaranteed 
rights of full citizenship regardless of race, creed or color, 
my endeavors to enlist the full cooperative strength of 
America in our victory efforts, then the names Mr. Dies 
chooses to apply are to me but tinkling cymbals and 
sounding brass. 

I shall continue along the straight, true course I have 
followed through all these years, and I pray some 
Divine signal may sound in the mind of Mr. Dies 
that awaken him to a realization that his accusations 
against loyal Americans will bring them but small 
discomfort, but can be of great comfort to our enemies. 

During the summer of '43, Congress adjourned before settling Bethune's case. Chairman 
Dies had achieved a victory. A smeared Bethune was leaving government with the liquidation of 
NYA. The subversive allegations would continue to hover around her and fester because no 
Congressional Committee determined her innocence or guilt. With the passing years, the FBI 
would substantially enlarge its Bethune File through secret informants and media clippings. In 
1951, as McCarthyism gathered steam, the government would use it to force Bethune's 
resignation as a consultant to the Farmers Home Administration in the Department of 
Agriculture, although no one ever charged that when she had joined certain organizations in the 
1930's she knew that they were communist "fronts," as the government later deemed. 



119 

Additionally, she would be denied the platform of an Englewood, New Jersey public school until 
the local school board heard the hue and cry of public opinion condemning this denial. 
Targeting race reformers among others, the House Un-American Committee constituted an Un- 
American blight in the life of the country in the early 1940's. Bethune paid a heavy price for 
championing "a true and unfettered democracy." 88 

Farewells 

With a program giving skills to disadvantaged youth nation-wide, understandably the 
NYA creators and staff pushed towards permanency. In the spring of '43 Eleanor Roosevelt 
mused, "I hope we will never have to give up the NYA. It is doing a very necessary and find 
work." 89 Administrator Aubrey Williams felt the same way, always favoring vocational training 
divorced from relief, regardless of the business cycle gyrations. Mary Bethune believed that 
African Americans, especially, would benefit from a permanent NYA because they experienced 
far fewer educational and employment opportunities than others, even in economic prosperity. 

Permanency, however, proved a chimera. In 1943, the Senate approved a $47,800,000 
appropriation to NYA but the House voted nothing. On July 3 rd , the Senate-House Conference 
Committee, by a vote of 39 to 34, denied NYA an appropriation, except for a $3,000,000 
liquidation fund. Aubrey Williams immediately sent telegrams to 500 communities, effectively 
stopping all projects. He dismissed 4,300 staffers. The NYA ceased to turn out trained workers 
for national defense. A combination of reasons explain the Youth Administration's demise. For 
years the educational establishment had opposed it because of competition for vocational turf. 
Congressional Republicans, however, killed it. They were motivated by "race mixing" on many 
projects, equal benefits to blacks, primarily in the last year, the votes that it might generate for 



120 
the Democratic nominee in the next presidential election, its relief origins in a booming 

economy, and its alleged superfluousness. 90 

All who had worked for NYA and fought valiantly for its extension felt a negative 

undertow when Congress pulled the plug. The Chicago Defender reported that Mary McLeod 

Bethune took it "pretty hard." Bethune made no secret that she writhed in pain. On July 6 th , three 

days after the agency's cancellation, she moaned, "The final stroke came to us last Saturday 

afternoon at 2.30. 1 have felt like a mother at the burial of her murdered child from that moment 

until now. It is hard to give NYA up." The next week, the blue feeling remained. "The 

liquidation of NYA is a very sad thing to me," she added, "because I know just what it has meant 

to thousands of white and colored youth throughout the country—opening new technical doors 

which had never been opened before," she said, "and providing a means of excellent interracial 

cooperation." 91 On July 6, 1943, Bethune wrote the agency's sole administrator, Aubrey 

Williams. 

As a member of your staff, I do want to express my personal 
gratitude for the privilege I have had of working with you during 
these eight years. You have portrayed in work and action the life 
and philosophy of Abraham Lincoln. You have dared, at a time 
when daring is costly in America, to be just to all mankind. You 
have opened the doors of opportunity for training to an 
underprivileged group—my people-which have been so tightly 
bolted for all the years. You have, through the administration of 
your program, built up an interracial understanding and tolerance 
among the youth of America that will help in a marvelous way to 
get the four freedoms we seek. 

I bring to you the affection an undying gratitude of our 
entire staff, both in the national office and on the field, for the 
way you have stood by, and the doors you have open for us. 
Your kind are few but we pray God they may be multiplied. 



121 



Your courage and tact and wisdom in fighting the battle 
for the salvation of the National Youth Administration will 
always stand out in our memory. You have given so fully of 
yourself that others may live. At this stage of the battle, we all 
have a realization that an organization may be destroyed but that 
an idea for good must and will live on. You can well say, dear 
Aubrey, as Sir Andrew Barton said: 

Though I am hurte I am not slaine. 
I'll lay me down and bleede a while, 
And then I'll rise and fight again. 

We know you will, and you will find us by your side. God 
bless you, our beloved friend. 92 

With the termination of NYA, Mary McLeod Bethune's most far-reaching work had 

ended. During the desperation and anxiety of depression and war, like "Mother of the Race," 

she had succored youth with social services, educational grants, vocational training, and 

government-facilitated jobs. 93 She had pioneered federal affirmative action with her special 

college fund and had contributed to self-determination with her campaign for black 

administrative and supervisory personnel. NYA employment had permitted her to become the 

Roosevelt Administration's primary black spokesperson; conversely, she had been blacks' 

preeminent representative to the administration. Bethune had cajoled and pushed a sector of 

blacks and whites connected to NYA, plus thousands of others in the capital and around the 

country, into a greater commitment to work together for the common good. In so doing, she had 

helped to advance America towards addressing its most intractable dilemma, oppressive racial 

inequality. "Any idea for good must and will live on," Bethune had written the NYA 

Administrator. That which she and so many others had striven for during NYA's lifetime would 

live on, writ large, in the Civil Rights Revolution and the "Great Society "of the 1960's. 



122 
Somewhere in the American psyche, especially in times of racial turmoil, it would remain a 
memory, capable of prodding the knowledgeable towards a "more perfect union." 
Afterglow 

When Congress terminated the National Youth Administration, Bethune believed, "I may 
just be through [in government]. . . .1 have been too concerned about the lost opportunities to 
thousands of youth in America to think of myself," she said. 94 Technically, however, she wasn't 
through. In addition to adjusting her files and producing a voluminous final report on the Negro 
office, she acted successfully to insure that the substantial NYA machinery in the South for 
black vocational training would be transferred to colleges which had used the same to sponsor 
NYA programs, including her own. The process of winding down NYA lasted officially until 
January 1944, the Congressional limit for the agency's liquidation. Given the situation, the 
White House looked around for another position that Bethune could fill. As early as July 21, 
1943, Eleanor Roosevelt asked her husband, "Have you found anything for Mrs. Mary McLeod 
Bethune?" Subsequently, the War Department answered that question affirmatively. Bethune 
declined whatever it had in mind, because her physician had advised against any work entailing 
travel. 95 

Even so, the Roosevelts maintained their great respect for Mary McLeod Bethune. When 

Florida's black state college requested a letter for its Bethune testimonial, President Roosevelt 

complied. He wrote: 

I have known Mrs. Bethune for many years as an 
able public servant and as a wise citizen devoted 
to the advance of all Americans. As a woman and 
as a Negro she has been effectively concerned for 
a better chance for all Americans and better training 



123 

to meet the widening opportunities. I join you today 
in honoring her, not merely as leader of women and 
a leader of her race, but as an American who has 
helped America advance towards the fulfillment of 
its rich meaning for all Americans. * 

The month after this testimonial, Roosevelt died. A shocked Bethune rushed back to the 
capital from Texas, where she had been visiting, to comfort her friend Eleanor. On the eve of 
the Commander-in-Chiefs funeral, she offered a brief but eloquent eulogy over a national radio 
tribute. She ended with a benediction: "May God take into His household this servant. May he 
protect those dearest to him who have been left behind. And may this nation and its people—this 
world— prosper in the vision that Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw." The following day, Bethune, 
grieving, attended the funeral in the East Room of White House. Departing, she was "conscious 
only of a vast sense of loss that pervaded the democratic world." An era had slipped away. 97 

Notes 

1. Proceeding of the NYA Regional Conference on the College Work Program for 
Negroes, September 6, 1 940, in Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better Worlds ed. Audrey 
Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 221- 
226. 

2. Scholarly research especially relevant to Bethune and the NYA include Richard A. 
Reiman, The New Deal and American Youth: Ideas and Ideals in a Depression Decade (Athens: 
University of Georgia Press, 1992); John A. Salmond, A Southern Rebel: The Life and Times of 
Aubrey Willis Williams, 1890-1965 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983); 
Christopher E. Linsin, "Something More Than a Creed: Mary McLeod Bethune 's Aim of 
Integrated Autonomy as Director of Negro Affairs," Florida Historical Quarterly, 76 (Summer 
1997), 20-41; Elaine M. Smith, "Mary McLeod Bethune and the National Youth 
Administration," in Clio Was a Woman: Studies in the History of American Women, ed. Mabel 
E. Deutrich and Virginia C. Purdy (Washington, D.C: Howard University Press, 1980), 149-177; 
B. Joyce Ross, "Mary McLeod Bethune and the National Youth Administration: A Case Study of 
Power Relationships in the Black Cabinet of Franklin D. Roosevelt," Journal of Negro History, 
60 (January 1975), 1-28; Joyce Ann Hanson, "The Ties that Bind: Mary McLeod Bethune and 
the Political Mobilization of Women," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Connecticut, 1997); 
Allen Francis Kifer, "The Negro Under the New Deal, 1933-1941," (Ph.D. dissertation, 



24 



University of Wisconsin, 1961); George Kawiek, "J he New Deal and Youth I he ( 'ivilmn 
Conservation Corps, the National Youth Administration and the American Youth ( longneif,' 
(Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1957) 

3. Hanson, "The lies That Bind," 1 22- 1 24. 

4 New York Amsterdam News, July 1 7, 1943, 1 1 ; Quote from Mc( .'luskey and Smith, 
Bethune: Building a Better World, 200, Atlanta Daily World, July 6, 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt 
quoted in the Jackson Advocate [Mississippi], May I, 1943, I; Rawick, "New Deal and Youth," 
231. 

5. Pittsburgh Courier, April 14, 1945, Mary McFcod Bethune Vertical File, Moorland- 
Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Frank S Home to Helen White, April 14, 1949, 
BF, Part 2, Reel 12; Campbell C Johnson to Bethune, June 9, 1942, Mary Mcl^eod Bethune 
Foundation Papers, Part 2, Reel 7 

6 William L Houston to f bethune, January 19, 1939, BF, Part 3, Reel 7. 

7. The Reminiscences of Clifford and Virginia Durr, 1974, 323, in the Oral History 
Collection of Columbia University, Salmond, A Southern Rebel, 61-62, 285-290 

8. Morris Schnapper to Aubrey Williams, including a note on each advisory member, 
August 7, 1935, File of Thelma McKelvey, National Advisory Committee, N YA, Record Croup 
1 19, National Archives, Washington, DC, Smith, "Bethune and NYA," I 51 

9. Smith, "Bethune and NYA," 151-152 

10. "Women's Council Spends Busy Day,'' New York limes, December 8. 1927, 26, P.R 
to Catherine Owens Peare, August 9, 1950, Bethune File, Bethune to F.R, December 18, 1933, 
and other letters, PJeanor Roosevelt Papers, J- rank I in Delano Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, 
New York. 

1 1 . Smith, "Bethune and NYA,'" 1 52, 1 54, Bethune quoted from hlaine M Smith. 
"Introduction: From ' 1939 Honor Fist' to An Inspiration for All Time/" Guide to the Microfilm 
Edition, Mary McLeod Bethune Papers: I he Bethune foundation Collection, Bart i (BethevJa 
Md: University Publications of America, 2002;, v. 

12 Smith, ''Bethune and NYA," 1 53 

13 Washington Inbune, May 5, 1936, Mary McJ^eod Bethune Vertical Hie, Schombltfi 
Center for Pesearch in Black Culture. New York City 

14 Bethune quoted from Proceeding! of the J ir.t /National Youth A dministrat ion 



125 
National Advisory Committee Meeting, August 15, 1935, 29, Charles Taussig Papers, FDRL. 

1 5. Christopher E. Linsin, "Something More Than a Creed," 38-39; for example of 
Johnson's style of speaking, see Proceedings of the NYA National Advisory Committee, 
September 6-7, 1939, 38-45, Files of the National Advisory Committee, Series 1, 1937-1939, 
NYA,RG119,NA. 

16. Bethune quoted from Proceedings of the National Youth Administration's National 
Advisory Committee Second Meeting, April 28-29, 1936, in Bethune: Building a Better World, 
McCluskey and Smith, 216-218. 

17. Bethune, "My Secret Talks with FDR," in The Negro in Depression and War, ed. 
Bernard Sternsher (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1969), 57-58, reprinted by permission from 
Ebony, IV (April 1949), 42-51. Some misrepresentations in "Secret Talks" are as follows: 
Bethune knew FDR as the New York Governor; her NYA office functioned for ten years; 
Bethune became acquainted with Eleanor Roosevelt through her husband; FDR never refused to 
see her; in 1924, Bethune lunched for the first time with ER; in 1934, she attended her first NYA 
Advisory Meeting; in 1941, ER spoke to over 20,000 at Bethune-Cookman College; and in 1943, 
certain Southern states alone failed to allocate funds for NYA Negro Affairs. 

18. Edith D. Glee, "Call to Serve," manuscript, November 22, [1936?], BF; "Mrs. 
Bethune Lays Down Challenge to H.U. Students," Washington Tribune, December 8, 1936, 
Schomburg. 

19. Blanche Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, 1933-1938, Vol II (Viking Penguin: 1999), 158- 
159; Kifer, "The Negro under the New Deal," 89. 

20. For an indication of the need for B-CC to obtain new funding sources see, Bethune to 
Jackson Davis, in Bethune: Building a Better World, McCluskey and Smith, 115-116; Susan 
Ware, Partner and I: Molly Dewson, Feminism, and New Deal Politics (New Haven: Yale 
University Press, 1987), 224; Smith, "Bethune and NYA," 154. 

21. Herbert Sitkoff, A New Deal for Blacks: The Emergence of Civil Rights as a 
National Issue, Volume 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 44-48, 58-59. 

22. David Jones to Aubrey Williams, July 18, 1936, National Council of Negro Women 
Papers, Series 4, Box 1, Folder 10, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site 
National Park Service, Washington, DC. 

23. Smith, "Bethune and NYA," 154. 

24. Home to Henry A. Hunt, July 31, 1936, NCNW Papers, Series 4, Box 1, Folder 8. 



126 



25. Aubrey Williams quoted from Earl Devine Martin, "Mary McLeod Bethune: A 
Prototype of the Rising Consciousness of the American Negro" (MA. thesis, Northwestern 
University, 1956), 91; Lash quoted from Robert Weaver's statement in '"Her Boys' Remember;' 

26. Salmond, Southern Rebel, 139; Williams to W.S. Sneed, June 28, 1939, Aubrey 
Williams Papers, FDRL. 

27. Smith, "Bethune and NYA," 81-82. 

28. Ibid., 166-167; Bethune, "From Day to Day" [column], Pittsburgh Courier, April 2, 
1938, 14. 

29. Smith, "Bethune and NYA," 164-165; Arthur W. Mitchell, "Speech of Hon. Arthur 
W. Mitchell," October 14, 1942, 12, Ferdinand Douglass Bluford Papers, North Carolina A & T 
University Archives. 

30. Bethune quoted from Proceedings of the NYA Regional Conference on the College 
Work Program for Negroes, 223; Final Report of the National Youth Administration 
(Washington, D.C: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1943), 51-52. 

31. Report of Conference of Negro State Administrative Assistants and Members of 
State Advisory Committees, February 1 1-13, 1937, Correspondence, Reports, Information File 
1938-41, Office of Negro Affairs, NYA; Smith, "Bethune and NYA," 165-166. 

32. Smith, "Bethune and NYA," 153; Bethune quoted from Telephone Conversation 
with Robert S. Richey, September 29, 1938, in Bethune: Building a Better World, McCluskey 
and Smith, 219. 

33. Pittsburgh Courier, June 22, 1935, 1. 

34. Telephone Conversation with Richey, September 29, 1938. 

35. Report of the Conference of Negro State Administrative Assistants and Members of 
State Advisory Committees, Annual Report, June 30, 1937, Inactive Correspondence, Office of 
Negro Affairs, NYA. 

36. Bethune to Brown, September 11, 1936, Inactive Correspondence, Office of Negro 
Affairs, NYA. 

37. "55,000 Aided By The NYA Program, Says Dr. Bethune," Washington Tribune, 
April 23, 1938, BF; R.W. Tallman to Williams, April 16, 1938, R.W. Tallman to Richard R. 
Brown, April 18, 1938, NCNW Papers, Series 4, Box 1, Folder 9; Hornton quoted from 
McCluskey and Smith, Bethune: Building a Better World, 200. 



127 



38. Bethune, "From Day to Day," Pittsburgh Courier, May 8, 1937, 8; Wil Law Gray to 
Mabel Carney, June 16, 1937, Ernest F. Witte to Richard Brown, April 16, 1938, Mabel Carney 
to Aubrey Williams, June 23, 1938, NCNW Papers, Series 4, Box 1, Folder 9. 

39. Bethune quoted from Proceedings of the NYA Regional Conference, St. Paul, 
Minnesota, October 3 1 -November 2, 1938, 56-59, Charles Taussig Papers, FDRL. 

40. Appearing from January 23, 1937 to June 18, 1938, Bethune's column, which her 
NYA staff helped to write, was originally titled "Weekly Chats" but changed to "From Day to 
Day" on March 20, 1937. During some weeks, however, it was omitted from the paper. 

41. Clarence Mitchell quoted from Nancy J. Weiss, Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: 
Black Politics in the Age of FDR (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 142; E. Franklin 
Frazier quoted from Martin, "Rising Social Consciousness," 84; Sheila Flemming, The Answered 
Prayer to a Dream: Bethune-Cookman College, 1904-1994 (Daytona Beach: Donning 
Publishers, 1995), 77-79. 

42. Quote from Edwin R. Embree, "With Prayer and Sweat," Negro Digest (December 
1943), 43; photograph of Bethune on picket line in McCluskey and Smith, Bethune: Building a 
Better World, 254. 

43. Myrdal, American Dilemma, 611-612; Gerda Lerner, Black Women in White 
America: A Documentary History (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), 163-164. 

44. Catherine Owen Peare, Mary McLeod Bethune (New York: Vanguard Press, 1 95 1 ), 
176; Interview, James C. Evans, Washington, November 10, 1972; "Mrs. Roosevelt," 
Washington Daily News, May 21, 1955, Mary McLeod Bethune Vertical File, Atlanta University 
Center, Woodruff Library; Stikoff, New Deal, 80-81. 

45. NCNW Proceedings of Annual Meeting, November 26, 1938, 25-26; Virginia Durr, 
Outside the Magic Circle (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985), 120-121. 

46. Smith, "Introduction: From ' 1939 Honor List,'" vi; Bethune quoted from "America's 
Town Meeting" Broadcast, November 27, 1939, BF, Part 3, Reel 3. 

47. Smith, "Introduction: From ' 1939 Honor List,'" vi. 

48. Ibid., vii; Bethune to Charles Houston, April 10, 1939, Mary McLeod Bethune 
Vertical File, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, Washington, D.C. 

49. Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, 412. 



128 

50. Farm Tenancy Committee Papers, Bureau of Agriculture Economics, Record Group 
83, National Archives; Will Alexander to Marvin Mclntyre, December 9, 1936, Will Alexander 
to Marvin Mclntyre, December 2, 1936, Mack Robb to J.B. Gurthie c/o Senator Claude Pepper, 
November 24, 1936, FDR Papers, FDRL. 

51. Proceedings, Farm Tenancy Committee, February 11, 1937, 3-4, December 17, 1936, 
50-52, Bethune to L.C. Gray, January 23, 1937, Farm Tenancy Committee Papers. Bethune's 
letter may be found also in McCluskey and Smith, Bethune: Building a Better World, 230-232. 

52. Stikoff, New Deal, 48; Wilma Dykeman and James Stokely, Seeds of Southern 
Change: The Life of Will Alexander (New York: W.W. Norton, 1962), 224-225; Report of the 
Second National Conference on the Problems of the Negro and Negro Youth, January 12-14, 
1939, 22-23, BF. 

53. Thomas A. Krueger, And Promises to Keep (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 
1967), 20-39; Sterling Brown quoted from Morton Sosna, In Search of the Silent South: 
Southern Liberals and the Race Issue (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), 88-98; 
Durr, Outside the Magic Circle, 120-121; Pittsburgh Courier, December 3, 1938. 

54. Eugenia Hope quoted from NCNW Proceedings of Annual Meeting, November 26, 
1938, 26-28. 

55. Linda Reed, Simple Decency and Common Sense: The Southern Conference 
Movement, 1938-1963 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 185-189. 

56. The assessment is based upon the writer's review of the Frank Porter Graham 
Papers. Porter was the first elected chair of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, who, 
unlike most, remained with the organization until its demise. 

57. Reed, Simple Decency and Common Sense, 1 00- 101. 

58. Weiss, Farewell to the Party, 70-72; 

59. Johnson quoted from Martin, "Bethune and the Rising Consciousness" 80; Frank 
Home, "Her Boys,' Remember;" Weiss, Farewell to the Party, 70-72. 

60. Weiss, Farewell to the Party, 136-156; Washington Afro-American, May 28, 1955, 4; 
Jane R. Motz, "The Black Cabinet: Negroes in the Administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt," 
(MA. Thesis, University of Delaware, 1964), 21-83; Roi Ottley, 'New World A-Coming: ' Inside 
Black America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943), 254-257; Dutton Ferguson to Bethune, 
September 23, 1939, Bethune to CM. Edmunds, September 29, 1939, BF. 

61. Minutes of the Federal Council on Negro Affairs, August 7, 1936, in Bethune: 



129 
Building a Better World, ed. McCluskey and Smith, 226-229. 

62. Ibid.; Bethune to Eleanor Roosevelt, February 10, 1938, Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, 
FDRL; Robert Weaver, '"Her Boys,' Remember." 

63. Ottley, New World A-Coming, 266-267; William J. Trent and Frank Home, "'Her 
Boys' Remember;" Al Sweeney, Washington Afro-American, May 28, 1955, 4. 

64. Smith, "Bethune and NYA," 160; Al Sweeny, Washington Afro-American, May 28, 
1955, 4; McCluskey and Smith, Bethune: Building a Better World, 232-233; Joseph Earl Taylor, 
"Two National Conferences on the Problems of the Negro and Negro Youth 1937 and 1939: A 
Comprehensive Program for the Full Integration into the Benefits and Responsibilities of the 
American Democracy," (Ph.D. dissertation, Catholic University, 1985), 1-2, source of Bethune 
quote; Elaine M. Smith, "Introduction: Mary McLeod Bethune and 'So Many Varied 
Correspondents," Guide to the Mary McLeod Bethune Papers: The Bethune Foundation 
Collection, Part 2 (Bethesda: University Publications of America, 1999), vii-viii. 

65. Elaine M. Smith, "Mary McLeod Bethune," in Black Women in America: An 
Historical Encyclopedia, ed. Darlene Clark Hine et. al., 123. 

66. B. Edward Lawson, "Straight From the Capital" [column], Charleston Messenger, 
January 23, 1937, BF; Crisis, February 1937, 46, 62; Taylor, "Two National Conferences," 1-2. 

67. Randolph to Bethune, December 2, 1938, Bethune Vertical File, Bethune Council 
House; Lawson, "Straight from the Capital;" William Trent, '"Her Boys' Remember." 

68. Quoted from a caption under Bethune's picture labeled "Assumed Race Leadership," 
Unidentified Newspaper, December 20, 1937, Second Scrapbook, BF, Part 1, Reel 7; Eleanor 
Roosevelt to Catherine Peare, August 9, 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, FDRL. 

69. New York Amsterdam News, June 12, 1940, Bethune File, Atlanta University Center; 
Bethune to Franklin Roosevelt [1939], BF; Another version of "Some of the Things Negroes 
Desire," appears in a draft letter to FDR in McCluskey and Smith, Bethune: Building a Better 
World, 236-240. 

70. Myrdal, An American Dilemma, 721-726; Neil A. Wynn, The Afro-American and the 
Second World War (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1975), 23-24. 

71. Mary McLeod Bethune, I'll Never Turn Back No More!" Opportunity, 16 
(November, 1938), 234-326. 

72. Bethune, "We Too, Are Americans," Pittsburgh Courier, January 17, 1941, 8. 



130 

73. Washington Afro-American, January 27, 1944; Edith D. Glee, "Call to Serve;" 
Activities of the Division of Negro Affairs, September 15-November 30, 1936, Division of 
Negro Affairs, NYA; Marvin Mclntyre to Aubrey Williams, December 24, 1936, FDR Papers, 
FDRL; Bethune to Aubrey Williams (Memorandum), October 17, 1939, in Bethune: Building a 
Better World, ed. McCluskey and Smith, 235-236; Smith, "Introduction: Bethune and Varied 
Correspondents," xiii; Mrs. Edward M.M. Warburg to Bethune, November 11, 1944, BF, Part 2, 
Reel 12. 

74. Myrdal, An American Dilemma, 782; Bethune quoted from Pittsburgh Courier, July 
22, 1939, Bethune File, Atlanta University Center. 

75. Joseph P. Lash, Eleanor and Franklin (New York: W.W. Norton, 1971), 523; 
Interview with Lawrence Oxley by the Writer, November 11, 1972, Washington, D.C; Eleanor 
Roosevelt, "Some of My Best Friends are Negroes," Ebony (February 1953), 18. 

76. Smith, "Bethune and the NYA," 157; Elizabeth Lindsey Davis, Lifting as They Climb 
(Chicago: National Association of Colored Women, 1937), 179; Bethune to ER, April 16, 1940, 
Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, FDRL. 

77. Kifer, "The Negro Under the New Deal, 272-278; ER to FDR, November 22, 1941, 
ER to Bethune, November 27, 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, FDRL. 

78. Bethune, "My Secret Talks," 56; Bethune quoted from Smith, "Bethune and the 
NYA," 158. 

79. Mitchell quoted from Weiss, Farewell to the Party, 147. 

80. Eleanor Roosevelt to Catherine Peare, August 9, 1950; The Reminiscences of John 
Davis, 379-380. 

81. Lawrence Oxley Interview. 

86. "Mrs. Bethune Assails Dies for Linking Her with 'Reds,'" Black Dispatch 
[Oklahoma City], October 10, 1942, Bethune File, Moorland-Spingarn Center. Federal Bureau 
of Investigation, Freedom on Information/Privacy Acts Section, Subject: Mary McLeod Bethune, 
Cross Reference File, National Archives. 

87. Charles Houston to Charles S. Johnson, March 20, 1943, Charles S. Johnson to John 
H. Kerr, March 26, 1943, John H. Kerr to Charles S. Johnson, April 13, 1943, Mary McLeod 
Bethune Papers, Fisk University. Bethune Papers, BF, Part 2, Reel 4. 

88. Washington Afro-American, July 10, 1943, 7; Statement of Mrs. Bethune to the Dies 
Committee, BF, Part 2, Reel 4; Patsy Graves to Claude Barnett, July 13, 1951, Claude Barnett 



131 
Papers, Chicago Historical Society; Smith, "Bethune's Last Will and Testament" 107-108. 

89. Roosevelt quoted in the Jackson Advocate, [Mississippi], May 1, 1943, 1. 

90. New York Times, July 4, 1943, 1, 2E; New York Amsterdam News, July 10, 1943, 5. 
Atlanta Daily World July 6, 1 943, 4. ; Jackson Advocate, July 1 7, 1 943, 1 ; 

91. Chicago Defender, July 17, 1943, 19; Bethune to Eleanor Roosevelt, July 6, 1943, 
BF; Washington, Afro-American, July 10, 1943, 8. 

92. Bethune to Aubrey Williams, July 6, 1943, BF. 

93. Elaine M. Smith, "Introduction to 'Closed Doors'" [by Mary McLeod Bethune], in 
Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement, 
ed. Bettye Collier-Thomas and V.P. Franklin (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 11. 

94. Washington Afro-American, July 10, 1943, 8; 

95. Eleanor Roosevelt to FDR, July 21, 1943, Jonathan Daniels to Grace Tully, January 
23, 1945, President's Official File, 5393, FDR Papers, FDRL. 

96. Franklin D. Roosevelt to Mrs. O.B. Moore, February 28, 1945, FDR Papers, FDRL. 

97. Bethune, "Tribute to Franklin D. Roosevelt" in Bethune: Building a Better World, 
McCluskey and Smith, 248-249; Bethune, "My Secret Talks," 65. 



132 



Chapter 3 
Hallmarks of Growth and Relevancy 

Introduction 

In November 1938, a young newcomer to the National Council of Negro Women, 
Chicago's Marjorie Steward Joyner, a cosmologist extraordinaire, perceived the three year-old 
organization's palpable potential for growth and relevancy. Engaging the Founder-President Mary 
McLeod Bethune, she remarked, "We are going places." "You know, I think that too," the elder 
rejoined. 1 They were right. The NCNW's augmented stature a few years later could be discerned 
in multiple ways, including memberships. Whereas, in November 1938 it counted only four dues- 
paying national affiliates and probably one local council, five years later the number of national 
affiliates had expanded to twenty-one and local councils to nine. 2 

This chapter examines the places the NCNW went, or strides it made in keeping with 
stated objectives, roughly between 1938 and 1943. It extends from the period following the 
NCNW precedent-setting White House Conference to the eve of acquiring a headquarters building 
and the sense of permanency that it symbolized. For these momentous years, which witnessed the 
swallowing up of the Great Depression in war-time production, several topics are considered. "A 
Case for Growth and Relevancy" presents starkly contrasting reports of NCNW executive 
secretaries at the beginning and end of the time considered. "The Annual Meeting" explains the 
nature of the council's indispensable yearly conclave relative to context, tone, programs, typical 
considerations, highlights, and Mary Bethune's presidential aura. "Reaching Out" discusses the 



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council's external contacts, particularly the relationship with a pivotal government program for 

women and a mainstream voluntary women's organization. "Internal Matters" reviews NCNW's 

memberships, leadership core, and finances, areas of concern to all viable organizations. 

"Wartime Emphases" embraces ideas and activities pertaining to the country's World War II 

mobilization, specifically the employment of women, response to riots, and affirmations of 

patriotism. Moreover, "Wartime Pride: The Women's Army Corps" deals with progress towards 

equal opportunity in the female component of one military service. 

A Case for Growth and Relevancy 

The annual reports from NCNW executive secretaries in 1938 and 1943 reflect the course 
of the organization in conjunction with the times. They dramatize the growth of the National 
Council and indicate a consistency of interests over changing times. In the former year, aside 
from the 1938 NCNW White House Conference, previously discussed, Secretary Clara Burrill 
Bruce, working gratuitously and part-time in New York City without paid assistance, presented an 
excellent demonstration of NCNW adroitly addressing a few city and state matters needing its 
bracing or agitation late in the Great Depression. By contrast, in 1943 during a booming war 
economy NCNW's first full-time, salaried executive, Jeanetta Welch Brown working in 
Washington, DC, focused expansively on the national scene. She enjoyed the services of a full- 
time stenographer, an assistant, and many volunteers. 

Secretary Bruce indicated that aside from answering inquiries and acknowledging various 
milestones-members' elevation to a new status, et cetera~she dealt primarily with New York. 
She and several other New Yorkers represented the NCNW there at a prestigious women's 
luncheon and a meeting of the United States National Council of Women. While Bruce sent one 



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message to a peace organization, she sent several letters or telegrams to New York officials, from 
the governor and administrator of the State Department of Education to the New York City mayor 
and other officials, with mixed responses. Each communication pertained to one of the following: 
licencing of nurses, a bill of rights in the new state constitution, revived screening of the notorious 
Birth of a Nation film in New York City, Benjamin O. Davis' elevation to colonel in the New 
York 369 th National Guard, and the need to appoint a qualified African American to vacancies on 
the Board of Education and the New York City Housing Board. 3 

By contrast, Brown delved into NCNW's clearinghouse function and public relations. She 
and her staff sent out more than 15,000 pieces of printed and mimeographed materials, including 
press-releases, newsletters, booklets, pamphlets, manuals, minutes, and the like. Also, she assisted 
in bringing out the council's periodical, first published in 1940. With a congenial personality, 
Jeanetta Brown received a stream of visitors at the council's makeshift headquarters, located in 
President Bethune's apartment at 1812 9 th Street in northwest Washington. On the international 
front, she maintained communication with the Joint Canadian Women's Council. Moreover, she 
and several members, including Bethune, helped to plan the entertainment and reception for 
Liberian President Edwin Barclay during his 1943 state visit. At Blair House, Washington's 
traditional abode for visiting heads of state, they presented a letter from African American women 
for Liberian women to Barclay and Liberian President-Elect William V. Tubman. 

Brown concentrated on domestic matters. Like Bruce, she prepared letters and telegrams to 
officials, but at the federal level. Probably President Bethune collaborated with her on 
communications, over Bethune's signature, to President Franklin Roosevelt and other appropriate 
officials relative to the '43 riots; future housing programs; and the appointment of a woman to the 



135 
Fair Employment Practices Committee. While the NCNW enjoyed easy contact with 

representatives of black organizations, including the voluntary civilian Women's Army for 
National Defense (WAND), Brown also promoted NCNW's association with essentially white 
groups; namely, the National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax; Women's Advisory Committee 
to the War Manpower Commission; National Council of Women; National Council of Jewish 
Women; American Jewish Conference; National Council of Catholic Women; and the Advisory 
Committee of the Labor Department's Women's Bureau, on which the NCNW held membership. 
Additionally, she oversaw most of NCNW's participation in public policy meetings, including a 
conference hosted by the Congressional Committee for the Protection of Consumers, a gathering 
of the Food for Freedom Committee, a Conference Against Race Discrimination in the War Effort, 
a conclave of the Committee on the Participation of Women in Post- War Planning, a panel on 
Community Relations at a federally-sponsored housing conference, and a showdown on Negro 
participation in the navy's WAVES— Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. 
The country's war footing and organizational growth carried Jeanetta Brown into 
additional functions. While two new metropolitan councils originated in '43, Brown addressed 
meetings of two older ones in Chicago and New York. She spoke also at the annual meeting of 
the Housewives League and an installation ceremony of the Pullman Car Cleaners of the 
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. NCNW's advisory status to the War Department's Women 
Interest Section led Brown to tour one facility where the Women's Army Corps trained troops and 
another one where troops worked. On tour she experienced "the same treatment and courtesies as 
other delegates" in the advisory body. Moreover, she participated in formulating solicited 
recommendations to facilitate recruiting black women into the WAC. But most challenging for 



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elected a slate of officers— every Other year; defined and asserted its position on noteworthy issues; 
and educated members on critical civic matters, thus sharpening their political acumen. In fact, 
the NCNW annual conclave served as the chief means for members to create out-of-town 
relationships, develop new concepts of female leadership, and promote political activism. This 
survey of the yearly assembly presents it with perspective, offers an essential summary, recounts 
specific matters voiced, reviews the annual dinner, describes the White House Conference-Tea, 
and relates Mary McLeod Bethune's presidential bearing. 

Context 

The NCNW annual conferences from 1938 to 1943 unfolded against the global background 
of Adolph Hitler's cataclysmic struggle to build a German Reich of a thousand years. When the 
United Stated skirted around the edges of the struggle and later, when it opposed Hitler mightily, 
American women, in addition to men, were affected profoundly. Women flocked into the war 
industries. "All of them meet with opposition and resentment," the Chicago Defender noted in the 
autumn of '42, "but Negro women find the utmost difficulties. Many employers do not want them 
because they do not want Negro-white unity. Many workers are incited against them by employers 
who play upon the prejudices upon which these white workers have for so long been fed." The 
newspaper then sounded marching orders to the NCNW. "All this must be relentlessly fought. 
The Council meets during a war in which Negroes can win their citizenship rights as human 
beings. These rights must be fought for as a necessary war measure," it continued. "America 
must use all of its labor power, Negro women included." 7 

The NCNW needed no reminder of goals to pursue. The council's "Findings" in 1940 
indicated that the body recognized its salient issues by concluding, "We . . . condemn every 



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Executive Secretary Brown was launching new council endeavors: the monthly newsletter 

TELEFACT, "We Serve America Week," and Wartime Employment Clinics. The National 

Council of Negro Women had indeed traveled far, just as Marjorie Joyner and Bethune had 

predicted. 4 

The Annual Meeting 

Typically energizing participants with knowledge, optimism, and a desire to serve, the 
yearly assembly constituted a major element in the work of NCNW. Usually reporters viewed 
each as "one of the most important gatherings" of the year and an "excellent Congress of 
Women." In 1941, one journalist exclaimed, "We were inspired by it all. So many stimulating 
speeches, so many valued suggestions, so many vitally important plans for the Council 
objectives." President Mary Bethune was even more emphatic about this meeting, deeming it "the 
most important gathering of Negro Women in America." 5 

Usually at the yearly conclave camaraderie ruled. Convention-goers met like-minded 
people from everywhere, some for the first time. In the absence of adequate hotel 
accommodations due to racial segregation, many out of town conventioneers stayed with local 
friends. Sometimes others dropped by, which usually made for memorable times. Occasionally 
during the annual conference, local members of a national organization held a reception for their 
visiting president, as did Washington members of the Women's Auxiliary to the National Medical 
Association in 1941. 6 

The indispensable meeting, however, served greater objectives than mere socializing. As in 
most such organizations, it reviewed the past year's work; planned for the future; permitted 
members to vent on pertinent topics; attracted media acknowledgment; enrolled new members; 



138 
manifestation of separation of the races, segregation and differentials in treatment whether it 
emanates from the federal, state, or local governments or any other source; and while we will 
defend if need be to the last extremity the right to live under this form of government," the 
declaration maintained, "equally so we shall defend our right to be free men and free women and 
to continue to contribute to America and the world the rich heritage of the years." 8 Nonetheless, 
the Defender's editorial further highlighted the importance of black female leaders seeking an 
extension of democracy to black citizens at home. The times were propitious because the nation 
could not as easily ignore women of color who insisted on being heard, when it was battling 
undemocratic forces abroad in the name of democracy. 

Overview 9 

The annual meeting traveled. New York hosted it in 1938 and '39. Washington, D.C., 
held forth the following two years. Chicago beckoned in '42; New York, the next. Attendance 
increased in Washington and in '43, in New York. When the government curtailed large, 
voluntary confabs due to the exigencies of war and requested national organizations to help 
alleviate congestion in the capital city by holding smaller meetings in other locales, the annual 
meeting downsized into an executive workshop, registering forty-odd participants. A year earlier, 
the inclusive gathering had counted 700, and "was attended by the largest number of outstanding 
Negro women ever assembled." 10 The workshop was limited to national officers, chairs of 
national departments and committees, life members, representatives of national and local 
affiliates, and a few guests. Both the regular meeting and its smaller version attracted women 
from all sections of the country. 

The feel of the annual conference noticeably shifted. In the first two years, when it met in 



139 
New York at the Harlem YWCA, 179 West 137 Street, it appeared more fluid than later. In '38, 

the business sessions exhibited an improvisation. The agenda appeared somewhat loose, as if the 

organization were still finding its way. At that assembly Bethune remarked, "We have been 

stumbling and falling down, and getting up. ... I think now we have just about gotten to the point 

where our feet are on the ground." 11 In '39, planned presentations considered "Social and Labor 

Legislation," "Youth and the Present Day Problems," and "Race Relations." 

In 1940, convening for two days in Washington during October, rather than one day in 
New York during November, the council further structured its proceedings. While holding a 
session at the White House and Howard University's Rankin Chapel, the principal venue was the 
Department of Labor, 14 th and Constitution Avenue Northwest. Using the theme "Women Facing 
New Frontiers," two panels, consisting of five discussants each, focused on "Consumer Problems 
in 1940" and "Citizenship Responsibilities in 1940." Other speakers gave discourses: 
Congressman Arthur Mitchell, Judge Armond Scott, Community Activist Eugenia Hope, 
Administrator of Consumer Affairs Minnie Fisher Cunningham, Editor Sue Bailey Thurman, and 
New York City Tax Commissioner Hubert T. Delany. 

The succeeding year, with the conclave themed "Women in the National Emergency: 
Toward Unity of Purpose-Unity of Action!," a larger number of individuals presented information. 
In a two-part symposium on the sub topic "The Role of the National Council of Negro Women in 
the World Today," ten stellar NCNW members shared their wisdom: Sadie Mossell Alexander, 
Ora Brown Stokes, Florence K. Norman, Ruth Whitehead Whaley, Mamie Davis, Vivian Carter 
Mason, Carita V. Roane, Dorothy I. Height, Sue Bailey Thurman and Elsie Austin. Moreover, the 
conference featured twenty discussants in a "National Defense Roundtable." Most belonged to the 



140 
Federal Council on Negro Affairs, better known as the Black Cabinet, including Robert Weaver, 
William Hastie, Constance Daniels, Venita Lewis, Frank S. Home, Campbell C. Johnson, Alfred 
E. Smith, Edgar G. Brown, T. Arnold Hill, and William L. Houston. Several notable personalities 
outside government addressed the assembly: NCNW's own Eunice Hunton Carter, the National 
Urban League's Lester Granger, and Howard University's Rayford Logan. Additionally, the 
ranking figures from the Roosevelt Administration giving discourses were A. A. Berle, Jr., 
Assistant Secretary of State; Paul V. McNutt, Administrator, War Manpower Commission; Aubrey 
Williams, Administrator, National Youth Administration; and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. As 
President Bethune had averred, Washington afforded "wider contacts," "very fine connections," "a 
new touch, [and] a new group." 12 

After the heady D.C. gatherings, the first post-Pearl Harbor annual meeting, an executive 
workshop in Chicago on October 15-17, 1942, appeared retrogressive relative to scale and 
numbers. But columnist Bess Holloway observed that at all the NCNW '"big shots' were present 
there and seemed eager to carry on." 13 In addition to a mass meeting at DuSable High School, five 
sub-workshops convened at the Southside Art Center Ballroom. Three dealt with the council 
organization. Another focused on "Participation of the Negro Woman in the War Effort;" the last, 
"The Role of the Negro Woman In Peace Time Planning." Employment clinics throughout the 
country was the new development emanating from the meeting. 

The next year, Bethune pronounced the New York workshop, headquartered at the "Y," 
"the most successful Council meeting in the history of our organization." It maintained an 
established emphasis on jobs and full citizenship. Additionally, in riot-torn New York, where 
African Americans had warred against Harlem's white commercial property, the NCNW accented 



141 
"interracial goodwill," through an all-day Saturday Interracial Forum held at 122 East 22 nd Street. 

The workshop featured six excellent panels through which a highly respected slew of experts 

discussed housing, consumer education, employment, child welfare, the armed forces, and 

intercultural relationships. With her federal job and agency abolished, and with the presidency of 

Bethune-Cookman College relinquished, the "need and value of building interracial goodwill and 

Christian understanding" was the priority Bethune had chosen for herself and the NCNW. 14 

Breaking new ground by meeting on Sunday, this New York workshop conducted on October 17, 

1943, a "Monster Mass Meeting" in the Golden Gate Ballroom, at 143 rd Street and Lenox Avenue. 

It called for "the integration of colored women in the war effort." Apparently a feast of inspiration 

and information came from Bethune; New York City Councilman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.; 

South Today Editor Lillian Smith, who was advertised as "A courageous white woman of 

Georgia;" Beulah Whitby of the Detroit Riot Interracial Commission; and Johnny Carey, National 

Executive Secretary of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). 15 

Concerns Expressly Voiced 

At all annual meetings during 1938-1943, council members exhibited an ingrained desire 

to enhance how others perceived African Americans, especially the women. Therefore, they 

proposed monitoring the media's characterization of blacks, tracking school materials referring to 

and reflecting on blacks, publicizing the achievements of race sisters, participating in the 1940 

New York's World Fair, and the like. Believing that African American women deserved special 

recognition, they suggested that a pageant be written and performed depicting the progress of their 

group; and, they established an archives collection on their history. Council members were 

indisputably "race women," as sometimes tagged in the Afro press. 



142 
As the preceding suggests, intertwined with the inherent impulse to elevate perceptions of 
the race, NCNW members wished to further understand, commemorate, and celebrate the African 
American heritage. This extended beyond women. They proposed a Yearbook on the 
Emancipation Proclamation; also, cooperation with National Negro Memorial Diamond Jubilee 
Celebration, on October 20, 1940, in marking an anniversary of the 13 th Amendment to the U.S. 
Constitution, which abolished slavery. For his great work in fostering the scholarly study of 
African Americans, NCNW members directed that a letter of commendations be sent to Dr. Carter 
G. Woodson, founding editor of the Journal of Negro History, now Journal of African American 
History. Moreover, they wanted a New York City public school named in honor of Renaissance 
Man James Weldon Johnson; and "they called for the reinstatement of Dr. Max Yergan, as 
instructor of Negro history at City College, New York." Council women supported action 
culminating in the U.S. Post Office issuing a stamp honoring Booker T. Washington. They 
commended President Franklin Roosevelt for appointing Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., a brigadier 
general, the highest ranking black officer in the armed services up to that time. They endorsed 
emphatically the movement for a George Washington Carver Monument. And, almost 
automatically, they sent a telegram of condolence to the widow of Robert Lee Vann, the deceased 
publisher of the Pittsburgh Courier. 

Some matters NCNW members discussed year in and year out. Employment issues 
predominated. Deliberations tended to center on getting professional blacks into all branches of 
the military and all major government agencies, especially'those dealing with social welfare and 
defense. The often heard social welfare topics dealt chiefly with health and education, with the 
latter including an emphasis on consumer education, training schools for domestic workers, and 



143 
especially federal action to equalize state education funds between black and white schools. The 
denial of the right to vote and lynching, which in effect were government-sanctioned outrages 
against African Americans, cut council members deepest. Therefore, the NCNW helped to wage a 
campaign against the poll tax and assisted the NAACP in creating sentiment for the passage of 
anti-lynching legislation in Congress. 

Also at the annual meeting, council members debated international questions. Cognizant 
of the interdependence of the world's people and wishing to interpret African American women 
internationally, the NCNW favored bypassing the National Council of Women of the United States 
to create a direct tie with the International Council of Women, a loose federation established in 
1888 consisting mostly of national councils in Eurocentric-led nations. Additionally, as part of the 
New Negro heritage, which in the jazzy, liberating 1920s had laid claim to the monumental task of 
re-establishing links with "the scattered peoples of African derivation," the council especially 
wanted contact with the world's non- white women, probably because common cultural 
experiences made for a heighten interest and the likelihood of easy rapport. Wherever their 
technology and networks insured supremacy, whites, as a group, made clear that non-whites as a 
group, were beneath them. 16 Consequently, the NCNW appreciated the idea behind the 
International Council of Women of the Darker Races, organized in 1922 in Washington, D.C., and 
existing until 1940, when its third president and NCNW treasurer Addie Dickerson died. In that 
same year, the National Council co-opted a major objective of the Darker Races organization by 
conducting a Cuban Seminar in Cuba, as a step in working with women of "closely allied ethnic 
groups in Cuba, Haiti, and India." 17 

The biggest international issue for the NCNW, however, was World War II, and events 



144 

preceding it. While in 1939 the council urged affiliates to lobby Congress for repeal of the 

Neutrality Act, it was more concerned with the plight of European Jews. At the '38 meeting, 

veteran clubwoman of an interracial and international ilk, Mary McCrorey of Johnson C. Smith 

University in Charlotte, North Carolina, introduced the subject in the wake of the Nuremberg 

Laws, which stripped German Jews of their most elementary civil rights. At the time, Charlotte 

Hawkins Brown contended that "Hitler is endeavoring to reduce the status of Jews in Germany to 

that of the Negro in New York." 18 The council, however, passed a resolution on the subject 

phrased diplomatically. 

We, the National Council of Women, Inc., in assembly 
in New York City, heartily endorse President Roosevelt's 
statement expressing his disapproval of the persecution of the 
Jews in Germany. We know that such brutality is the logical 
outcome of persistent refusal of majorities to recognize the 
economic, civil and individual rights of minority groups 
regardless of race or creed. 

As members of an oppressed group in the United States 
of America, we sympathize with the Jewish minority group in 
Germany as can no others. 

It is the hope of this organization of Negro women that 
the people of this country will come to realize that the 
attainment of the ideal of American Democracy is possible 
only through good will and the application of economic, civil, 
and individual Justice to all. 

We recommend that a copy of this resolution be sent 
to the President [of the U.S.] and to the press. 19 

Dinner Session 

From the time Eleanor Roosevelt, as featured speaker, helped to inaugurate the annual 

meeting's dinner session in 1937, it continued to develop as a grand Saturday evening event, 

culminating the yearly conference, except in '43 when a mass meeting substituted. In 1938, the 

New York Age pronouncement that the evening dinner "should count in Negro History," appeared 



145 
apropos to others. Two years later, for example, when the event was first held in Washington~in 
the Dinning Room of the Department of Labor, beginning at 8: 15 p.m.-it was thrilling enough for 
a council recorder to rhapsodize, "Everyone present felt that the dinner meeting was one of the 
most magnificent affairs ever held in Washington." 20 With the exception of certain sessions in 
1941, the dinner attracted the largest attendance at an annual meeting: from more than 200 at the 
small executive workshop in Chicago, to more than 400 at the regular assembly in Washington the 
preceding year. 

Capable chairpersons, including Clara Burrill Bruce, Vivian Carter Mason, and Julia West 
Hamilton, exercised skill to insure the dinner's success. Turkey was sometimes the entree and the 
cost per person extended to $1.50. But the annual gala was not for the faint-hearted. With a 
council officer recognizing the numerous special guests who always attended, with external 
organizations extending greetings, typically with multiple musical attractions, with the reading of 
committee reports and/or the "Conference Findings," with presentations of flowers to designated 
individuals, and usually with more than one speaker—four in 1938—some programs appeared 
interminable. 

Assuredly, fashion reporters had ample time to observe the attire of women attending. 
Hometown papers featured their own. For example, in l 38, the New York Age reported the 
following: Mrs. Bessye J. Bearden was dressed in a "brown and gold afternoon frock and 
matching accessories; Mrs. Carita Roane, black afternoon gown, vari-colored chapeau and pearl 
jewelry. . Mrs. Vivian Carter Mason, black afternoon frock [with] blue trimming and accessories . 
. . Mrs. Ollie Porter, burgundy velvet gowned and a tiny exquisite chapeau made wholly of vari- 
colored grapes." The reporter also described the attire of at least ten others before concluding that 



146 
there were "ever so many more prominent and stunningly gowned New Yorkers that it is 
impossible to name them all." 21 

The dinner showcased women and their concerns. Seemingly only two men were speakers. 
Aubrey Williams, Bethune's boss at NYA addressed the audience in '39. Walter White, executive 
secretary of the NAACP, followed two years later. The slender number of male orators 
emphasized the occasion's female thrust. Distinguished women were the NCNW's special, 
honored guests. Over five years they included Crystal Bird Fausett of Philadelphia, the first black 
woman to be elected to a state legislature; Frances Payne Bolton, Republican Congress woman 
from Cleveland, Ohio; Nannie Helen Burroughs, courageous school founder in Washington; Jane 
Hunter, Cleveland social worker extraordinaire; and pioneer and distinguished individuals in the 
black women's national club movement: Mary Church Terrell, and Anna Murray of Washington, 
and Hallie Quinn Brown from Wilberforce, Ohio. Terrell basked in the status of both special guest 
and a dinner speaker. Other achievers and political doers mounting the podium included: 
Legislator Crystal Bird Fausett, Historian Mary Ritter Beard, Judge Jane Bolin, Diplomat Florence 
Jeffrey Harriman, Attorney- Journalist Marjorie McKenzie [Lawson], and Congress woman Frances 
Payne Bolton. Bolton spoke at two dinner meetings: first as the wife of an Congressman Chester 
C. Bolton in '38; then as an Ohio Congresswoman in '41. Two years later she introduced in 
Congress a successful measure prohibiting segregation in federally sponsored nurse training 
programs. 22 

These achievers talked about women. At Chicago's "swank" downtown Women's Club in 
1942, "brilliant" young Marjorie McKenzie begged listeners to support of the National Council of 
Negro Women and urged the organization to develop "a good, simple workable program. . . that 



147 
can be used in every community of the United States." 23 While acknowledging the unjust status of 
African Americans, Crystal Bird Fausett, fresh from her 1938 legislative victory in Pennsylvania, 
emphasized "that Negro women have a future filled with hope." The National Association of 
Colored Women's first president, Mary Terrell, encouraged race sisters to "use their right of 
suffrage and ask for equal chances." Frances Bolton wished that black women would not be "too 
much Negro women, but Americans." Also, considering that "women have a knowledge of life 
and physical suffering that no man can ever know," Bolton thought that "both white and colored 
[women] should get together and try to understand each other." 24 

With several history books to her credit, either authored alone or with husband Charles, 
Mary Beard, an authority on women's social problems, pinpointed a commonality of women in all 
ages: they were a subject gender. She criticized a college education for inflicting injury on 
women by failing to teach them about the achievements of their own sex. And she affirmed that 
women "have always been at the center of life, making history—which, in great part, has been left 
unrecorded by man." 25 

In her first major speech after becoming the first black female judge in the country— a 
Mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointee to the Court of Domestic Relations in New York City~in 
late 1939, the young, attractive Jane Bolin sounded a trumpet for women. "Abroad we have war, 
savagery, butchery and chaos; at home we have poverty, disease, lynching, discrimination, jim- 
crow, bigotry and a lack of equality of opportunities," she said, "but the heritage of women to 
bring truth, beauty and justice out of all this is in itself a ray of light." Bolin emphasized that 
"women must take a practical interest in formulating public opinion, in articulating protests 
against injustices and in learning to appreciate the vast importance of the ballot and its use." 26 



148 
In 1940, the principal dinner speaker, psychologically transported the audience beyond 
American shores. One of the first two United States female ambassadors, Florence Harriman, 
Minister to Norway, "stirringly recounted the heroism of Scandinavians," against Nazi Germany's 
aggression. Personalizing the European war, she related the situation of Sigrid Undset, winner of 
the Nobel Prize for literature in 1928. This courageous woman "had sacrificed one son in the 
army during the Nazi invasion and had fled her country and come to America to tell the story in 
lecture engagements to a vast number of her spiritual allies in the new world." Apparently those 
in the audience could be numbered among Undset' s allies, for the Aframerican Woman 's Journal 
reported that Harriman' s recounting of her story within the context of Norwegian resistance to the 
Nazis marked "the high note of courage and inspiration to the conference." 27 

White House Conference-Tea 
With its politically plugged-in President, a special bonus the NCNW garnered by 
assembling in D.C., rather than elsewhere, was a conference and tea at the White House. As she 
did for other organizations, Eleanor Roosevelt gladly received NCNW delegates, for she deemed it 
an effective means of learning their work. Even though they were "the cream of American Negro 
womanhood," according to the Associated Negro Press, or "the finest type of women," as Bethune 
stated, the Council President took no chance that through lack of exposure, any one would act 
inappropriately. 28 Like a mother hen, she announced, "Now before you go [into the mansion] . . . 
I don't want anyone coming out of there with napkins or silverware or anything of that sort. If you 
want souvenirs," she admonished, "go downtown and buy them." 29 Bethune probably didn't 
mention the proper attire, for as the Afro women's editor professed, "There could scarcely be 
found a better dressed or more chic group of women" than those at the NCNW meeting. 



149 
Enthusiastically agreeing, Courier reporter Helen Jordan judged the collective clothing of council 

women "Sartorial Elegance." 30 

In 1940, four hundred and forty-four convention-goers enjoyed an interesting program at 
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The First Lady spoke on "Women in [the] Club World and 
Organizations," during which she urged them to study closely local conditions as a preliminary to 
corrective measures. A general discussion turned on consumer education for homemakers; next, 
the National YMCA's Frances Harriet Williams explained NCNW aims and efforts. Mrs. 
Roosevelt then received two gifts, recently published: Editor Sue Thurman presented the first two 
editions of the Aframerican Woman 's Journal; Mary Church Terrell, her autobiographical A 
Colored Woman in a White World. Later, in a smaller chamber, Mrs. Bethune introduced each 
individual to the First Lady, as they passed by, single file. From there, the women partook of tea 
or coffee and delicacies in the walnut paneled state dinning room. 

The following year change occurred. In the "resplendent" East Room, Contralto Carol 
Brice, the Palmer-educated niece of Charlotte Hawkins Brown, sang a short program to piano and 
violin accompaniment. Barely with standing room, seven hundred people listened. While initially 
scheduled to speak at the White House as formerly, Mrs. Roosevelt had given her presentation 
earlier in the Labor Department Auditorium, due to the large attendance. Following the pattern set 
the previous year, once the East Room program ended, individual introductions were made, 
followed by refreshments. 

Obviously, council women were elated to visit the official residence of the U.S. President. 
In 1940, their recorder noted that "the White House Conference was the most exciting pleasure of 
all." 31 That year, the women left the famous mansion around 4.00 p.m., eager to inform friends 



150 
and organizations of their experiences. Partly because they did so well, about two hundred and 
fifty joined their ranks on the repeat visit in '41. At that time, NCNW members voted the 
occasion "one of the most enjoyable moments of their lives." 32 

Mary McLeod Bethune's Presidential Aura 
NCNW members eagerly attended their yearly conclave in part because of the Founder- 
President. Clearly the organization's driving force, Mary McLeod Bethune breathed into the 
proceedings an elevated air. While frequently presiding, and using all of the leeway inherent in 
that function, opening remarks constituted her institutionalized time. That relatively short 
statement on November 26, 1938, welcomed about sixty participants and provided objectives and 
perspective. 

This is the thanksgiving season and I am sure our hearts 
are filled with gratitude for the privilege we share here together, 
of being here to think on the problems confronting us, our nation, 
and the world. I think seventy-five years afterwards [after the 
Emancipation Proclamation], it is very significant that a group of 
Negro women should gather from all sections of America, 
representing the large national organizations, as well as the 
original thoughts and ideas of the womanhood of our race to think 
calmly and thoughtfully of what we may do to help make the 
world better, to help make America better, to help make a wider 
path for the Negro constituency of this country. 

.... I am very happy to say that I think now we have just 
about gotten to the point where our feet are on the ground and our 
minds are made up as to the real purposes and ideas of our Council, 
and we are congratulating ourselves on the privilege of having so 
many of you at this early date of our existence to feel that you are a 
part and are willing to lend your influences and your thought matter 
to the building up of an organization that will be just a mouthpiece 
for the fourteen million Negroes of America an particularly for 
things regarding Negro women. 

.... To you and to those whom you represent we extend our 



151 
greetings and our gratitude for your presence. 33 

Twenty-four months afterwards, Bethune incorporated into her annual statement 

recommendations regarding the organization's headquarters, journal, committee chairs, younger 

members, and local councils. Also, she offered a review of the past twelve months' progress. 

"This has been," she announced on October 25, 1940, "a historic year: the birth of our national 

magazine; the participation of our organization in the 75 th Anniversary of the greatness of the 

Negro [referring to African Americans' seventy-five years of "freedom" since the end of the Civil 

War]; our participation in the great historic New York World's Fair; our very active participation 

in interpreting to the government of the United States, through the many channels of government, 

the need and possibilities of our group, and the insistency of our participation in the activities of 

the government." The year was historic also, the National Council Chief said, "for the 

representation and participation we have had in the several conferences of this country; in the 

thousands of letters we have sent out advocating the passing of the Anti-lynching Bill, and 

equalizing of the educational funds to the Negroes of the country." 34 

Three years later, against the backdrop of the United States in another world war, Bethune 

delivered a formal and extended speech. In part, she rallied her civilian troops to ally with others 

to make a better world. Her conclusions consisted of ringing declarations. 

Armed with a faith in what we as a united group may do, 
we go forth to the job before us, with an undying faith in God, and 
in the cause to which we are committed. We must be aware of 
our special problems and the nature of their ultimate solution. 
But we must also recognize that our problems are akin to the 
problems of the weak and oppressed everywhere, and that our 
rights, like the rights of all people, are rooted in the common 
humanity of all men. United — We build a free world. 35 

Undoubtedly, most council members responded to Bethune as did sister journalists, such as 



152 
Edra Mae Hilliard of the Chicago Bee who in 1941 pronounced her "the pride of all Negro 
women." The next year, after attending her first NCNW annual meeting, Pittsburgh Courier's 
Bess Holloway described Bethune with flying adjectives: dynamic, lovable, gracious, great, 
diplomatic, strong-willed, judicious, forceful, magnetic, unconquerable, and incomparable. 
Holloway found it amazing that though obviously ill, this remarkable personality arrived early 
every day and sat "through the morning and afternoon sessions without taking time out for rest or 
refreshments." To greet early arrivals at the opening meeting, her strong will and determination 
shook off an "impending illness," for which a physician had treated her twenty minutes earlier. 36 
In this same vein a year later, Chicago Defender's Venice Spragg reported that "President 
Bethune's indomitable will to carry on in spite of recent illness. . . during the entire session" 
merited special mention. 37 

Viewing her as a phenomenon, the women's editor at the Pittsburgh Courier wrote about 
Bethune regularly. Julia Jones asserted that the "magic voice of that persuasive lady can stir 
somnolent pulses and give a whirl to laggard feet where no movement had ever been noticed 
before." Writing more expansively in 1941, she observed, "There is no stopping the dynamic 
Mary McLeod Bethune. There is not a woman in the country today who can match her leadership. 
Old, young, middle-aged and indifferent—they all fade when this colorful figure comes to the 
stage." 38 
Reaching Out 

With Founder-President Mary McLeod Bethune's connection to "almost every movement 
for the advancement of the Negro," as researcher-editor Jessie P. Guzman would later write, the 
NCNW enjoyed excellent relations with front-line freedom-fighting organizations for blacks, 



153 
including the NAACP, National Urban League, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and 

Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The council's challenge was taking part in 

mainstream society, in accordance with one of its fundamental objectives: to educate and 

encourage black women "to participate in civic, political, economic, and educational activities in 

the same manner as other Americans." 39 Collaborating with government programs was the most 

promising avenue for convincingly achieving this goal. In war-oriented Washington in the early 

40's, the NCNW's task was compounded because, as usual, black women faced harsh racial 

injustice plus gender mistreatment. The government followed a decidedly discriminatory policy 

against women. Notably, defense employment for most practical purposes bypassed the female 

Secretary of Labor and her bureaucracy; instead, an exclusively male War Manpower Commission 

subsumed it. In relation to that body, women were supposed to be content with membership in an 

ineffectual Women's Advisory Commission. 40 The Women's Interest Section in the War 

Department proved to be a more promising women's niche in wartime Washington. Therefore, 

Mary Bethune determined that her organization would be associated with it. Regarding the private 

sector, she adopted the same attitude in relation to the mainline National Council of Women of the 

United States, which had stood for decades as a beacon for aspiring national organizations. 

The Women's Interest Section in the War Department 

In the autumn of '41, the relatively new Women's Interest Section (WIS) of the War 

Department's Bureau of Public Relations offered means through which women could cooperate 

with a war-oriented government program. WIS endeavored to sell army life to the soldiers' 

sweethearts and wives; to allay concerns about army living conditions; and to foster women's 

pride in their soldiers. 41 On October 13, 1941, just three days before the NCNW annual meeting 



154 
in Washington, WIS convened a conference in the U.S. capital to organize a female advisory 
council. Attracting women like magnets, Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall greeted the 
parley at the morning session, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at the luncheon. Later, with 
the conferees having banded into the anticipated advisory body, Mrs. Roosevelt had them for tea at 
the White House. 

Representatives of thirty-one organizations attended the conference. Two organizations, 
the National Council for State Garden Clubs and the National Committee of Church Women, each 
sent two persons. Additionally, a female writer participated. Conferees represented diverse 
groups: sixteen independent female organizations, four auxiliaries to male-dominated bodies, 
three gender inclusive committees, and eight other gender-inclusive entities, such as the Salvation 
Army and the National Education Association. Christians and Jews, urbanites and rural folk, 
housewives and professionals, Northerners and Southerners joined together in a women's council; 
but no NCNW members, nor any other African Americans. 42 

Advance notice of the WIS meeting appeared in the Pittsburgh Courier. It concluded, 
"The National Council of Negro Women has been included [in the WIS conference] and will co- 
operate." NCNW life member Julia B. Jones, the Courier's editor for the women's section, 
authored that assertion. While making a logical assumption, Jones' understanding of the torturous 
configurations of Jim Crow suggested that if the War Department slighted race sisters, she wanted 
to help make it an issue. This she did. 

Seeing the Courier's early announcement while lacking an invitation to the WIS 
conference, the NCNW President telephoned Secretary of War Henry Stimson and others for an 
explanation. Brigadier General A. D. Surles, chief of the Public Relations Bureau, informed her 



155 
that "only 3 1 invitations had been sent out and no additions could possibly be made." Invitations 

had been restricted to organizations with memberships of at least 100,000. And, according to the 

War Department, no black women's group met that criteria. Given this, Bethune retorted that her 

National Council encompassed 800,000 members. The Department's recourse became "some 

mistake had been made." Nevertheless, the "mistake" remained unrectified. 

The omission of ebony women in the WIS conference struck the government's black 

leadership corps "with the force of a six-inch shell." The day after the parley, Bethune' s ire may 

have increased while reading about the WIS conclave in the Washington Post. Having failed to 

gain admission to the meeting through friendly, personal persuasion before it occurred, 

immediately afterwards Bethune resorted to shrieking public protest. The message she conveyed 

to the War Department Czar circulated among several government officials and appeared in some 

form throughout black America. 

I protest the apparent discrimination in excluding 
Negro representation at the meeting held Monday, October 
13. We cannot accept any excuse that the exclusion of 
Negro representation was an oversight. 

We are anxious for you to know that we want to 
be and insist upon being considered a part of our 
American democracy, not something apart from it. We 
know from experience that our interests are too often 
neglected, ignored or scuttled unless we have effective 
representation in the formative stages of these projects 
and proposals. 

We are not blind to what is happening. We are 
not humiliated. We are incensed! We believe what we 
have asked is what we all desire~a unity of action, 
thought and spirit. We still seek this end and urge upon 
you the that Negro representation be included in this 
advisory council and in all future plans sponsored for the 



156 

purpose of promoting our morale and strengthening our 
defense. 

We militantly and respectfully speak through this 
voice for the Negro womanhood of America. 43 

Finally, about three weeks after its formation, the army invited the NCNW to become a 
member of the Women's Interest Section Advisory Council. Bethune's letter and behind-the- 
scene pressure, assuredly from Eleanor Roosevelt and others, had convinced the War Department 
that it had indeed made a mistake to initially exclude African American women. Subsequently, the 
NCNW sent representatives to various WIS meetings held in different cities. Moreover, Mary 
McLeod Bethune participated in planning a series of regional conferences. 44 

From the perspective of the country's large defense picture, the NCNW- WIS controversy 
and resolution may have appeared inconsequential. Nevertheless, it is of interest for several 
reasons. The episode demonstrated white women's lack of initiative in bringing darker women 
into affairs potentially impacting all American women. It illustrated the energy black women 
expended in gaining an acknowledgment that their white counterparts took for granted. Also, it 
marked a milestone in the blossoming NCNW. Like no other single incident, it vindicated 
Bethune's concept of a National Council. "The scattered work and independent programs of 
national organizations of Negro women," just as Bethune had previously asserted, "needed the 
strength that unity could bring." 45 Unity welded to apparently large numbers, made a difference. 
Two years later, NCNW Executive Secretary Jeanetta Brown would rattle off numerous 
government programs involving the National Council in part because it had emphatically reached 
out to participate in the activities of the War Department, an arch-typical stiff-necked, dyed-in- 
wool segregationist bureaucracy. Gaining a toehold there facilitated NCNW's input into other 



157 
government agencies. 

The War Department was key also because on the horizon loomed its precedent-breaking 
Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, which Massachusetts Representative Edith Nourse Rogers had 
introduced in Congress in May 1941. Membership on the WIS advisory council was the initial 
means through which Bethune and her organization would impact that army. Moreover, the 
NCNW-War Department controversy prompted some private voluntary institutions to lower their 
racial bars. Certainly it appears more than coincidental that, while the U.S. National Council of 
Women had established relations with the NCNW in the 30's, only after the NCNW protested the 
WIS treatment did this essentially white women's federation admit the black council. 46 

The National Council of Women of the United States 

While participating in several mainstream women's forums, whether ad hoc, such as the 
Woman's Centennial Congress in November 1940, or reoccurring, like the New York Herald 
Tribune Conference, NCNW officials probably prized their membership in the U.S. Council of 
Women most. That organization visioned itself as a "confederation of workers committed to 
overthrow all forms of ignorance and injustice, and to the application of the Golden Rule to 
society, custom and law." Consisting of the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union, 
National Woman's Party, Hadassah, American Women's Voluntary Services, National Women's 
Relief Society, and other such white organizations, it constituted one of the chief structured means 
outside of government through which black women leaders had interacted for over forty years with 
their white counterparts. 

Bethune, in particular, appreciated membership in the U.S. council. As president of the 
National Association of Colored Women in the 1920s, then its only black affiliate, she and her 



158 
officer corps extended their contacts and enlarged their vision relative to the possibilities and 
potential of organized women to make a difference in public affairs. She thought the U.S. council 
"a great and powerful group of organized women." After her organization joined it, she 
proclaimed, "We are not separate and apart from the womanhood of our country, so that whatever 
is being done for either the nation or the individual is also our responsibility and our field of 
service. And wherever women are working for good citizenship, social and economic welfare, 
community health, nutrition, child welfare, civil liberties, civilian defense and other projects for 
the advancement of the people-there also we must be," she maintained, "though we work late, 
while others sleep." In consideration of United States war posture, Mary Bethune observed, "I 
cannot state too forcefully how important it is that we Negro women play our rightful role in the 
events now taking place in the nation," for they would fundamentally affect all. 47 

In the early 1940*s, the U.S. Council was led by a woman sensitive to the common interests 
that should bond her organization with its black affiliates. Lucy R. Milligan of New York 
demonstrated a concern for participating in NCNW activities somewhat akin to Eleanor 
Roosevelt's. Never before had the leadership of the U.S. council so accommodated ebony women. 
A telling example of Milligan' s attitude is her response to learning of white policemen in 
Montgomery, Alabama, attacking a black army nurse. In October 1942 she wrote Bethune, "While 
we are shocked beyond words at this evidence of cruelty, we would like to have your advice as to 
the best way we can be of assistance in this matter." Continuing, she declared, "In our eagerness 
to be of help, it might be that we would make a move which would prove of more harm than good. 
Therefore, we feel it would be wise not to act in the matter until we have heard from you." 
President Bethune replied, "I see no harm in stating your opinion of such treatment of our women 



159 
who are serving our country." 48 

It was one thing for the U.S. Council Chief to extend herself to the NCNW, it was another 
for the NCNW to be incorporated into the internal decision-making of her organization. True to 
form, Bethune wrote Milligan and her successor repeatedly about placing black women on the 
U.S. council's committees, rosters, and programs. The best that this council had done in forty 
years was to elect black women as fourth vice-presidents; but only after Bethune had run for that 
office and lost at the Detroit meeting in 1925. Realizing that only their racism prevented someone 
of Bethune's stature-a founder and president of a growing junior college-from achieving an 
office, members of the U.S. council later elected as fourth V.P. Sallie Stewart, Bethune's lack- 
luster and politically inept successor in the National Association of Colored Women. The 
National Association's first president, Mary Church Terrell, obliquely implied in A Colored 
Woman in a White World that the greatest furor between white and black women in the U.S. 
council occurred at the end of Stewart's tenure as V.P. because no African American replaced her 
as an officer. Some sisters were incensed! Again, belatedly, the U.S. council fixed matters by 
ensconcing the president of the National Association of Colored Women in the position of fourth 
vice-president. 49 Thinking this inadequate, later Bethune appealed to Milligan. 

The National Council of Negro Women requests that the 
Nominating Committee place on its slate the name of a 
member of the National Council of Negro Women as one 
of the Vice-Presidents of the National Council of Women 
of the United States. 50 

In 1943 one thing was certain: even though by then the U.S. council had three black 

affiliates among the seventeen participating in its biennial meeting at the Belmont Plaza in New 

York, it was not going to have two black vice-presidents, no matter how brilliant they may have 



160 
been. At the same time, Milligan was not predisposed to ignore Bethune. Therefore, nine days 
after the NCNW President's request and after the U.S. council had elected officers, the 
organization enthusiastically elected Bethune an honorary vice-president. Having attended the 
morning session, Bethune skipped the one in the afternoon when the election occurred. When 
officially notified, she responded to the distinction with humble gratitude. Yet black women 
remained distant from the U.S. council's decision-making and internal operations in New York. 
Its fourth vice-president, African American Ada Belle DeMent, lived in Mineral Wells, Texas. Sl 
Internal Operations 

Common concerns exist for all vibrant and growing organizations. Among them are 
membership, leadership, and finances, areas indicating the health and progress of the group. The 
National Council of Negro Women advanced as most organizations. In the fore-mentioned 
categories between 1938 and '43, it experienced ups and downs, but continued progressing. 

Memberships 

By paying the small registration fee at its annual meeting, any woman could call herself a 
council member. The NCNW offered, however, primarily three types of memberships. One was 
individual life membership, which supplied a needed source of income at $50.00 per person. 
Another was chapter membership, activated in '39 under the leadership of Ollie Porter with 
women belonging to the council's national affiliates in the New York City area. Membership in 
chapters became an increasingly popular means for women of color to act in unison on local 
concerns and to implement NCNW programs. The other type of NCNW membership was through 
national affiliates. It constituted not so much a means for large numbers of women to actively 
work in the council, but for its official representatives to participate in the council's decision- 



161 
making and to legitimize its existence by supplying large membership figures critical to the 

council concept. 

Therefore, national affiliates were indispensable. The NCNW fished constantly for new 

ones. It spent considerable time catching the Ladies Auxiliary of the International Brotherhood of 

Sleeping Car Porters, which prided itself as a group for working black women. Yet the affiliate 

withdrew in 1945, after only a year. Historian Deborah Gray White argues that this decision 

bespoke different class and gender ideologies, even though asserting that auxiliary women and 

council women came from the same class and occupied "extensive" common ground. Some 

others may find validity in a class-gender interpretation for the auxiliary's departure from the 

council, regardless of numerous contradictions therein. In this situation two points appear 

pertinent: the auxiliary's national convention voted to join the NCNW in 1942, although its 

leaders failed to take action for two years; and its Washington, DC, affiliate maintained a 

working relationship with the NCNW regardless of objections. These facts suggest that the 

dispositions of the Ladies Auxiliary's leaders, President Helena Wilson and Secretary-Treasurer 

Rosina Tucker, constituted the decisive factors in the auxiliary's withdrawal from the NCNW. At 

a nitty-gritty level, apparently they believed their status or that of their organization was 

diminished by National Council affiliation; or they valued an independent organizational identity 

more than blurring it in a collectivism for the common good. 52 

The fierce independence of another organization, the National Association of Colored 

Women, which for decades had been black women's largest secular body, was a fact that Bethune 

anticipated moderating enough for its affiliation with the NCNW. At the National Association's 

1941 convention in Oklahoma City, Bethune propagandized the issue. She declared to the 



162 

assembly the following. 

I feel this is the opportune time for the women of my 
race to pool their interests. And through the channels 
of the National Council of Negro Women, we can pool 
our resources and bring together these various groups 
for the strengthening of our powers and influences. 

As a president emeritus and principal trustee of its headquarters building, Mary McLeod Bethune 

continued to be intimately involved in National Association affairs. Some other association 

presidents, past and present, identified with the council, from Mary Church Terrell to Ada Belle 

DeMent. Moreover, DeMent's immediate successor, Christine Smith, then deeply enmeshed in 

council affairs, as well as other successors were or would be NCNW members. Yet the twentieth 

century would slip away without the incorporation of the National Association into the first 

national coalition of black women's organizations. Too many National Association leaders felt 

betrayed by Bethune for starting a sister society and were irked by the perception that it had 

eclipsed their organization as America's foremost civic body of black women. Thus they were 

preoccupied with establishing a high organizational profile separate from it. 53 

While the National Association could not be corralled into NCNW membership, in 1940 

eight other organizations could. These paid from $25 to $50 dues. The next year, the NCNW 

counted fourteen national organizations. Six professional and occupationally-oriented groups 

headed the roster: the Beauty Culturist League, National Association of Business and Professional 

Women, National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, Iota Phi Lambda Sorority (business), 

Lambda Kappa Mu Sorority (business), and Phi Delta Kappa Sorority (teaching). Broadly-based 

sororities originally founded on college campuses constituted the second largest category of 

affiliates: Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Sigma Gamma Rho, and Zeta Phi Beta. Other 



163 
member organizations were the Daughter Elks-officially the Grand Temple, Daughters of the 

Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World (IBPOEW), Women's Parent 

Mite Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Republican National 

Association of Women, and Achievement Clubs. 

In late 1943, the council touted seven additional affiliates. Three existed as auxiliaries to 
other groups: Women's Auxiliary to the National Dental Association, Women's Auxiliary to the 
National Medical Association, and Matrons Guild, comprising the wives of Omega Psi Phi 
Fraternity members. Female organizations in connectional churches constituted two other national 
affiliates: Woman's Home and Foreign Missionary Society, AME Church, and Woman's Home 
and Foreign Missionary Society, AME Zion Church. Another member originated in partisan 
politics, the National Democratic Women's Association. And, only founded in 1942 was the 
National Association of Jeanes Supervisors, consisting of ranking teachers. 54 

Since so few reliable numbers are available, the combined membership of NCNW national 
affiliates is guess-work at its worst. In 1940, for example, the Daughters Elks with its unrestrictive 
membership claimed 43,000; the little-known Achievement Clubs, 117. In between the 
Republican Women and Beauticians weighed in with 22,000 and 21,000 respectively. Other 
organizations failed to report their numbers. 55 The public's lack of adequate figures gave the 
hyperbole-prone Bethune license to assert in the early 1940's, as she did to the War Department, 
that the NCNW had 800,000 members. 36 Nevertheless, the NCNW was a weak entity-certainly, 
no where near the muscle that an 800,000 strong council suggested. Therefore, although always 
commanding loyal followers, in a sense Mary Bethune was the NCNW. 

Leadership Cadre 



164 
The NCNW's leadership corps suffered from the deaths of three officers. Two, both 
Philadelphians, occurred in 1940: Third Vice President Abbie Johnson and Treasurer and long- 
running Bethune pal Addie Dickerson. The new treasurer Bessye Beardon of New York, died 
three years later. Occurring a month before the annual meeting in her hometown, Bearden's death 
hit the organization particularly hard. While all effective officers worked satisfactorily with 
Bethune, extrovert and well-respected community activist Bearden was doubly close. This deputy 
collector of the Third Internal Revenue District had been very prominent in a major Bethune- 
Cookman College fund-raiser in New York. "The National Council of Negro Women bows in 
humble submission to the will of the Father we love and serve," began Bethune's condolences to 
Bearden's family, "in removing from us one of the most staunch, loyal, sacrificing, and 
understanding members of our National Council. . . ," 57 

Despite such loss, in 1943 the NCNW still maintained notable leaders, beginning with 
President Mary Bethune. New offices added since the late 1930's were registrar, auditor, and 
historian, filled respectively by Harriet C. Hall, Harriet Shadd Butcher, and Mary Church Terrell. 
The four vice-presidents, consecutively listed, were Vivian Carter Mason, Alma Illery, Edith 
Sampson [Clayton], and Arenia Mallory. Other officers were Jeanetta Brown, executive secretary, 
Ethel Ramos Harris, recording secretary; Elizabeth Ross Gordon, treasurer; and Sadie Mossell 
Alexander, parliamentarian. The leadership consisted also of four at-large executive committee 
members: Julia Pate Borders, Rosa L. Gragg, Hattie I. James, and Audley Moore. Moreover, the 
editor-in-chief and circulation manger of the NCNW's quarterly were respectively Sue Bailey 
Thurman and Harriet Curtis Hall. Other NCNW leaders chaired major committees. 58 

Probably the biggest NCNW leadership ruckus occurred at the annual meeting in 1941, 



165 
because strong factions expected Bethune to loosen her grip on the body, in accordance with the 

constitutional necessity to elect a different president. Bethune shocked them. Just before the 

Nominating Committee was to report, she calmly interjected, '"If I am your president,' and then 

with marked emphasis, 'and I shall be your next president, I propose to have creditable offices in 

the downtown area.'" A "tomb-like hush" swept the assembly. The hundreds of delegates 

withered at this challenge and the prospect of defying it. 59 When they found voices again, some 

probably said quietly "all kinds of nasty things about Mrs. Bethune. . . and were ready to murder 

her." 60 Nonetheless, they amended the constitution so that the Founder-President could remain in 

office indefinitely. 

Until 1943, NCNW staffers received only token remuneration, if that. Counted therein was 
Oberlin-educated Sue Bailey Thurman, whom Bethune appointed to edit the proposed NCNW 
periodical in 1939. Conceiving and developing it "to fight the battle of the Negro woman above 
the conflict," the next year, Thurman brought out the Aframerican Woman 's Journal. Over the 
years, this quarterly constituted "a literary accomplishment which has commanded the respect and 
commendation of literary critics in many areas of journalism," and which numerous agencies and 
institutions had requested. Thurman edited the periodical until mid 1944, when she relocated from 
Washington to San Francisco, with her illustrious husband, theologian Howard Thurman. 6] In that 
same year, the NCNW hired Hilda M. Orr, formerly of the Baltimore Urban League and the 
National Youth Administration, in part to edit its new monthly newsletter, TELEFACT. It 
provided members with news of programs, affiliates, council personalities, and general interest 
topics. 

The pivotal staffer, however, was not an editor but the executive secretary. Between 1938 



166 
and 1943, the NCNW benefitted from five of them, beginning with Clara Burrill Bruce. They 
performed reasonably well, considering that all but Florence Norman had other jobs on which they 
worked full-time until Jeanetta Brown came along. At the '39 convention, Bruce submitted no 
report and illness prevented her presence. Thereafter, she vanished from the NCNW radar. Her 
replacement was Carita V. Roane, the manager of the 135 th Street Office of the New York State 
Employment Service. The following year, Florence K. Norman of Flushing, New York occupied 
the post. In 1941, Dorothy I. Height, general secretary of Washington's Phyllis Wheatley YWCA, 
took over, serving until the council made the position full-time and salaried. At some point, 
Bethune would have borrowed Height full-time from her secure "Y" career, had that been 
possible. Instead, she gained a commitment from the T for Height to serve as the "Y"'s 
representative to the council. 62 A former Washington lobbyist with Alpha Kappa Alpha's Non- 
partisan League and director of the Detroit Association of Women's Clubs, the full-time, salaried 
Jeanetta Brown began work in April 1943. 63 Also, in the same month, the organization hired full- 
time stenographer, Julia A. Sneed. Afterwards, it zoomed to new operational heights. 

Prior to Welch's appointment, President Bethune called on various individuals to assist in 
maintaining the council's internal operations. In this regard and others, her NYA secretary and 
NCNW member Arabella Denniston was a right hand. Sometimes when Bethune needed 
information or to get things done quickly, it was easier to reach her, rather than an executive 
secretary in New York or later, an over-burdened one in Washington. When Bethune was 
unavailable, especially due to frequent travel and reoccurring illnesses, 'Bella,' as loved ones 
called her, kept NCNW affairs moving. In September 1940, for example, she informed her boss, 
"I have called Mrs. [Sue] Thurman and Mrs. [Julia West] Hamilton on Council matters, and Mrs. 



167 
Thurman is to come by the house tonight to go over all correspondence we have had concerning 

the October meeting." 64 

While working amicably, as the preceding suggests, sometimes NCNW leaders quarreled, 
as in the summer of 4 1 , when the dissemination of the Aframerican Woman 's Journal became a 
bone of contention between Editor Sue Thurman and Executive Secretary Florence Norman, who 
had management responsibilities for the journal. While pledging to cooperate with the New York- 
based Secretary, the Editor, in Washington, relinquished little. When President Bethune requested 
Norman to send one hundred copies of the magazine to Thurman, Norman balked, replying that 
the reasons for doing so were "too flimsy." Moreover, she chastised the Council President for 
condoning "unbusinesslike" procedures. Bethune confessed, "I am chagrined and disappointed." 
Thurman threatened to quit. Norman did the same, as far as the periodical was concerned. 
President Bethune communicated to both that if the three of them could not resolve the matter, she 
wanted them to "stand still" until a meeting of NCNW executives could determine the next step. 

In the fall, the issue was settled definitively. Norman lost her office as executive secretary 
to Washington-based Dorothy Height, who had sought it at Bethune 's request. Thurman remained 
magazine editor. Publicly, the Council President praised both Norman and Thurman. She 
appreciated "the Editor. . .and the Executive Secretary for. . . cooperation in making our official 
journal a significant contribution to the literary expression of Negro womanhood." Moreover, in a 
move the '41 conference excitedly applauded, the President appointed as National Organizer of 
local councils Florence K. Norman. 

Undoubtedly, other undercurrents divided NCNW leaders. In those, Bethune 's insights 
into organizational work-nothing is easy and one must work with individuals harmoniously- 



168 

served her well. She shared such thoughts with Sue Thurman and Florence Norman. To the 

Executive Secretary, the experienced President had declared, "I know the work of the Council is a 

hard job. . . I have always found whatever I had to do with people and for people has been 

difficult. They have different minds, different interpretations and different temperaments." To the 

Editor, she had asserted, "In dealing with people all my life. . . I am very glad that I have been able 

to so take suggestions and criticism, whether constructive or otherwise, in a way that I could make 

myself amenable to their service. I have had to swallow a number of things to do that but at this 

stage of the game, I still find myself capable of doing just that." 65 

As if this situation had not been taxing enough for President Bethune, age 66, during the 

next year a former council first vice president and close friend assailed the organization publicly, 

an act Bethune thought unconscionable. She had advised council members earlier, "If we are 

weak, let us show our weakness in here together. Don't go out and distribute that weakness to 

others. You weaken the whole machine. . . If you have any fault to find. . .you should bring [it 

here]," she maintained. "When we go out there with these little restless criticisms, it makes it 

pretty hard for us." 66 Fellow educator Charlotte Hawkins Brown, founder-president of the 

secondary Palmer Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina, had more than "little restless criticisms." 

She revealed them in a newspaper interview during October 1942. The NCNW was an "air castle" 

and a "myth" to the average black woman, she charged. Its objectives were not sufficiently 

defined to the public. Moreover, she declared the following. 

I think fear dominates the thinking of some of the 
women, even those of strong minds. They are afraid 
to disagree with the leader who, I know, is far too 
broad to wish to guide the thinking of this intelligent 
group of followers~but they do practically nothing 



169 



after they leave the meeting. We do not have a 
program of action. 

Bethune was dumbfounded! Historian Joyce Hanson reports that it took her seven months 
to recover sufficiently to respond. "That stand, coming from you, was to me a 'Pearl Harbor Stab.' 
It was 'below the belt,' Charlotte," she asserted. "It took something out of me that only a friend 
could take out." While Bethune thought that she could never feel the same towards this special 
educator-friend, time and a forgiving heart would work magic. 67 

Finances 

After visiting the member-supported headquarters of the National Council of Jewish 
Women in New York, NCNW Executive Secretary Jeanetta Brown reported that it had forty-six 
paid employees, including five department secretaries and an executive secretary, plus its own 
mailing and mimeographing office. This contrasted starkly with the rudimentary operations of 
black women's voluntary societies, including the NCNW. In 1938, the plain-talking Charlotte 
Hawkins Brown had blurted, "Our poverty is one of the distressing, pathetic things in our lives. . . 
[There is] no money to run this organization and we represent the well-to-do!" Two years later, 
this point was re-emphasized when the Women's Auxiliary to the National Medical Association, 
or the organized wives of physicians, claimed that it could not afford to pay NCNW dues. 68 The 
scarcity of money that year caused Bethune to become teary-eyed and the NCNW annual assembly 
to stand and applaud when it was announced that Margaret Bo wen of New Orleans had wired a 
donation of $25. 00. 

Money problems continued to dog the council. In '41 Bethune moaned, "I am more deeply 
concerned about the financial situation of our organization than I can express." But other 



170 
commitments, especially to Bethune-Cookman College and NYA, prevented her from serious 
NCNW fundraising. 69 The organization's quarterly helped to create the cash deficiency. Bethune 
informed council women in 1941 that it "must be placed upon a sound financial basis which can 
result only from your consistent support and participation." Nevertheless, a year later the NCNW 
had owed the printer of the Aframerican Woman 's Journal for six months. Consequently, he had 
withheld the periodical until the organization paid. 70 

A financial turn-about occurred in 1943 when President Bethune formally presented to 
Rosenwald Fund officials a council budget for $10,220, of which she asked for $6,000. This 
budget broke down as follows. 



Executive Secretary 


$2400 


Office Secretary 


1620 


Magazine (publication and 




distribution) 


1600 


Travel and Promotion 


2000 


Monthly Bulletin (8 issues 




per year) 


800 


Office Supplies 


800 


Telephone rental, etc. 


900 


TOTAL 


$10,220 per year 



At the time Bethune admitted, "I say that we need this very speedily because I am seriously 
handicapped and embarrassed in carrying forward the work." She received the requested grant, 
with the understanding that it was a one-time supplement and that the NCNW would accent "race 
relations." 71 In speaking to NCNW members about internal operations, Secretary Brown gave 
credit where it was due. "The entire office set-up has been made possible largely through the 
ingenuity, resourcefulness and personal concern of our national President for the work of the 
council." 72 Whether the NCNW could maintain operations at the 1943 level once Rosenwald 



171 
money disappeared was an open question. 

Wartime Emphases 

During 1940 as portended in the shooting war in the Atlantic between the Axis Powers and 
the United States over cargoes destined for the Allies, the U.S. was going to enter World War II 
one way or another. The war was revolutionizing the country. All military services instituted 
female components, a development causing the National Council of Negro Women to agitate for 
equal access. Excluding the female military, discussed herein are the organization's wartime 
preoccupations; namely, black female employment, initiatives to prevent more race riots, and 
displays of patriotism. 

Jobs for Black Women 

In 1940, the Arsenal of Democracy multiplied the labor force, especially by hiring millions 
of new workers to manufacture the implements of war. Yet government and defense industries 
employed African Americans at a snail's pace. In a well-publicized letter, appearing even in the 
Congressional Record, the NCNW Chief wrote President Franklin Roosevelt, broaching 
employment through the prism of patriotism. "At a time like this, when the basic principles of 
democracy are being challenged at home and abroad, when racial and religious hatreds are being 
engendered, it is vitally important that the Negro, as a minority group in this nation, express anew 
his faith in your leadership and his unswerving adherence to a program of national defense 
adequate to insure the perpetuation of the principles of democracy. I approach you," Mary 
McLeod Bethune averred, "as one of a vast army of Negro women who recognize that we must 
face the dangers that confront us with a united patriotism." Then this women's icon introduced 
the subservient status of African Americans that justified the missive. "We, as a race, have been 



172 

fighting for a more equitable share of those opportunities which are fundamental to every 

American citizen who would enjoy the economic and family security which a true democracy 

guarantees," she asserted. "Now we come as a group of loyal, self-sacrificing women who feel 

they have a right and a solemn duty to serve their nation." Bethune dealt directly with 

employment as follows. 

In the ranks of Negro womanhood in America are to 
be found ability and capacity for leadership, for administrative 
as well as routine tasks, for the types of service so necessary in 
a program of national defense. These are citizens whose past 
records at home and in war service abroad, whose unquestioned 
loyalty to their country and its ideals, and whose sincere and 
enthusiastic desire to serve you and the nation indicate how 
deeply they are concerned that a more realistic American 
democracy, as visioned by those not blinded by racial prejudices, 
shall be maintained and perpetuated. 

I offer my own services without reservation, and urge you, 
in the planning and work which lies ahead, to make such use of 
the services of qualified Negro women as will assure the thirteen 
and a half million Negroes in America that they, too, have earned 
the right to be numbered among the active forces who are working 
towards the protection of our democratic stronghold. 73 

Regardless of Bethune's logic, President Roosevelt was unwilling to antagonize Southern 

Congressional racists inclined to further impede his legislative initiatives. Consequently, little 

happened-that is, until a year later, when labor leader A. Phillip Randolph and NAACP executive 

secretary Walter White threatened to put 100,000 black folks in the streets of the nation's capital 

to protest discriminatory employment practices. Bethune was prepared to mobilize NCNW 

members to march on Washington, as were other credible black leaders, for the idea of a mass 

march captivated both African American leaders and the masses. 74 Roosevelt was unwilling to let 

a black demonstration further inflame race hatreds and dramatically highlight the contradiction of 



173 
the United States, on the one hand, gearing up to fight for democracy abroad when, on the other, 

denying it to a major segment of its own citizens. Therefore, on June 25, 1941, Roosevelt issued 

Executive Order 8802 barring discrimination in defense industries and government and 

authorizing the establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Committee "to 'receive and 

investigate complaints of discrimination in violation of the provisions of this order' and to 'take 

appropriate steps to redress grievances which it finds valid.'" 75 

Against the backdrop of the Executive Order, the next month Bethune addressed "Mother 
National," the regular assembly of the National Association of Colored Women. She inspired it to 
believe in the possibilities of black women wielding influence in the federal establishment. It 
made no difference that out of the 220,000 women in government, other than herself she could 
only count ten black sisters with substantive responsibility. Since those ten were victories, she 
proudly ticked off names: Frances Williams in the Council of National Defense, Constance Daniel 
and Jennie B. Moton in the Farm Security Administration, Venita Lewis in the Children's Bureau 
of the Department of Labor, Corienne Robinson in the U.S. Housing Authority, Crystal Byrd 
Faucett in the Office of Civilian Defense, and Ora Brown Stokes, Venice Spraggs, Pauline 
Redmond, and Nell Hunter in the National Youth Administration. 76 

Interestingly, all but two or three of the ten female professionals, plus Bethune, worked in 
temporary agencies. This was no fluke. While the number of ebony women in the federal 
government tripled during the war, those in white collar work were lodged mostly in temporary 
positions in the capital city. Moreover, regardless of symbolism, a woman of color in the Labor 
Department could not change the bureaucracy's institutionalized approach to women of color. 
Neither its U.S. Employment Service nor its Women's Bureau aggressively helped black women 



174 
attain greater career opportunities. 

Nonetheless, the improving federal employment prospects of African American women, 
due to Executive Order 8802 and a national policy of recruiting women for an unprecedented 
variety of work in an economy of labor shortages, were mirrored in the private sector. Within 
months of the Order, 400,000 ebony women walked out of domestic service, their primary 
employment opportunity. Half of those in farming, their secondary field, also found higher pay, 
shorter hours, and more benefits in other employment. But most of these women did not enter 
traditional white female domains of clerical and sales work. While unions had a hand in this, 
typically managerial intransigence consigned increasing numbers of black women to jobs men had 
previously held, which more often than not, were "arduous, dirty, hot, or otherwise disagreeable." 
Therefore, a significant percentage of black female industrial workers became Rosie the Riveter 
with a Vengeance. 77 

Even though they still fared worst than all other major groups, wartime employment 
opportunities improved the status of African American women, and the FEPC promoted this lift. 
Consequently, conservatives made it a demolition target; liberals sought to bolster it. Crusading 
with the latter, Bethune worked with A. Phillip Randolph in his continuing March on Washington 
Movement and subsequent National Council for a Permanent FEPC. Her council women did 
likewise. New York members, notably First Vice-President Vivian Carter Mason, Treasurer 
Bessye Bearden, and Mabel B. Staupers, president of its nursing affiliate, took the lead in 
drumming up support among women's groups, black and white. They assembled representatives 
often national organizations, including the Women's Trade Union League, U.S. National Council 
of Women, and the Interracial Council of the Federation of Churches, for dialogue on the issue in 



175 
April 1943. The conferees wanted the retention, strengthening, and expansion of the FEPC, and 

said so in terms specific to the dilemmas of the committee at the time. Several of their 

recommendations were, in fact, effected. "The President's Committee on Fair Employment 

Practice is pleased to acknowledge the constant support of your organization," a representative 

wrote Bethune in January 1944. Through telegrams and conferences, the NCNW continued to 

lobby the administration for a strong FEPC. But having the final say were Southern Congressional 

conservatives, who killed it after the war. 78 

Supporting a constructive government unit was not the only way the NCNW dealt with 
minority employment. It conducted wartime employment clinics in major cities during June 1943, 
according to the employment program developed at the Chicago annual meeting. This was a 
timely initiative in itself; also, timely in light of Charlotte Brown's charges that the council was 
meaningless to average ebony women and did nothing between annual meetings. Apparently, the 
clinics made an impact. When a national committee, backed by Rosenwald money, decided "to 
help make the Negro worker conscious of the responsibilities resting upon him to make his future 
employment status more secure," it unanimously tapped the NCNW's Jeanetta Welch Brown as its 
executive secretary for a "Hold Your Job," program. The NCNW "loaned" her out for two months 
and the committee gave the NCNW funds to employ a stand-in during Brown's absence. It 
worked well for all concerned. "Hold Your Job Week," September 12-18, 1943, was celebrated in 
black communities in almost every state. 79 

Certainly, the % 'Hold Your Job" program was win-win for the National Council. Due to the 
organization's high profile, women in several large cities determined to organize NCNW chapters. 
Under Venice T. Spraggs, chairperson of the Employment Department, the council vigorously 



176 

encouraged black women to do all possible to retain their jobs, and thus reduce the possibilities of 

large scale dismissals after the war. Distributing a thousand manuals on ways to organize an 

employment clinic and printing and circulating five thousand pamphlets for female workers called 

"Wake-Up Your Job is in Danger," the NCNW sponsored clinics in cities employing large 

numbers of black women, particularly in government and industry. Clinics considered the 

workers' dress, behavior, attitude, maximization of training opportunities, contributions to the war 

effort, and participation in labor organizations. Executive Secretary Brown thought that the 

Washington, DC. clinics, held at the Hearthstone War Workers Club and reaching seven hundred 

men and women, exemplified a good model. "Experts in fields of counseling, charm, make-up, 

dress, job and public decorum," she declared, "participated in helping to make this series of clinics 

a success." 80 

Response to Race Riots 

In 1943, race riots erupted in Mobile, Alabama, Beaumont, Texas, Los Angeles, Detroit, 
and Harlem. The worst occurred in Detroit, which in three years had attracted 500,000 new 
residents, of which 50,000 were African Americans. They came for work in the automotive- 
turned-war industries, for good pay and a better life. As in urban America generally, Detroit 
whites insured that black were confined to woefully small ghettos devoid of the necessities for 
adequate group living, regardless of residents' ability to pay. Only Detroit was worst. The race 
baiters and demagogues spewed their poison unchecked and government responded remarkably 
ineptly to racial crisis. The riot started on Sunday evening, June 20, 1943, and continued for three 
days. Officials hesitated to call in federal troops until rioting engulfed three-fourths of the city. 
By that time, in the midst of extensive damaged property, policemen had killed seventeen blacks 



177 
and watched while others were beaten. Non-law enforcers had killed eight blacks and nine whites. 

More than a thousand were injured. 81 

With a sharpened focus in 1943 on building "public goodwill through programs involving 

intra-racial, inter-racial and international relationships," the NCNW acted as an "ambassador of 

good will," particularly to whites at home. Consequently, race riots gravely disturbed it. The 

council desired "all thinking women throughout the country to lend their strength and energies to 

any existing committees already established for the purpose of preventing future race riots." Also, 

it wanted them to telegram the President and the Attorney General with their riot concerns. 82 After 

the one in Detroit, Bethune expressed her firm belief that the President needed to address the 

fundamental reasons for riots, and thereby prevent them. She told him this. 

The National Council of Negro Women representing 
800,000 women in all walks of life views with great 
alarm the growing racial tensions in America, which are 
already flaring in tragic violence in both the North and the 
South. America's victory report, indeed, America's future, is 
at stake. A straight forward determined statement and program 
of action from you that will reach the core of this problem is 
imperative. We urge you as President of the United States and 
as Commander-in-Chief of the American Armed Forces to take 
some firm steps immediately in suppressing this violence. We 
know you as the courageous leader who will not hesitate to act 
when the need for action is apparent. 83 

Bethune probably wasted time writing Franklin D. Roosevelt. He had and would continue to be 

tepid on civil rights issues, perhaps intending to address them after the war. 

Of greater interest than the letter to FDR were Bethune's interpretation of and antidote for 

collective racial violence. Viewing riots from a global-historical perspective in her essay, "Certain 

Unalienable Rights," she asserted, "Just as the Colonists at the Boston Tea Party wanted 'out' 



178 
from under tyranny and oppression and taxation without representation, the Chinese want 'out,' 
the Indians want 'out,' and colored Americans want 'out.'" She believed that the recent riots had 
developed in part from the people's deeply felt resentment against the mistreatment of blacks in 
uniform, and "against restriction and oppression." There existed on the one hand, "the growing 
internal pressure of Negro masses to break through the wall of restriction which restrains them 
from full American citizenship;" on the other, "the unwillingness of white America to allow any 
appreciable breach in the wall." Countering those who attributed rioting to black leaders or rabble- 
rousers, Bethune emphasized that the greatest grievance of an African American was "the failure 
of the Army and his government to protect him in the uniform of his country from actual assault 
by civilians." "These things are the intimate experiences of the masses themselves," she declared. 
"They know them and feel them intensely and resent them bitterly. ... At the same time," she 
maintained, "they see around them unlimited opportunities offered to other groups to serve their 
country in the armed forces, to be employed at well-paying jobs, to get good housing financed by 
private concerns and FHA [Federal Housing Administration] funds." 84 

Affirmations of Patriotism 
The NCNW led African American women into celebrating "We Serve America Week," 
July 4-10, 1943. The first day commemorated the country's birthday; the last, Mary McLeod 
Bethune 's. The NCNW President viewed the activity as "interpreting to all Americans the 
principle of interdependence of all peoples." She stated that it was "to demonstrate to all America 
the contributions made by Negro women to our war effort and to the support of our democratic 
ideals." More specifically, the week was to emphasize black women's role in the war effort; to 
promote the sale of war bonds and stamps; to encourage all interested parties to urge President 



179 
Roosevelt to racially integrate all female military services; to honor Bethune on her birthday; and 

to raise money for the council. To implement the last two goals, the council solicited from each 

member a Bethune-birthday gift of $1.00 for its treasury; from each cooperating organization, 

purchase of printed red tags-from NCNW-to be worn on clothing. 85 

Famed cartoonist E. Simms Campbell drew a poster embodying the week's major 
objective: minority women working in behalf of country. It featured idealized side views of three 
dignified and serious-looking black women walking with shoulders back, heads up, and eyes 
focused ahead. Clutching a tool, one was clad in factory overalls and a visor; another appeared in a 
nurse's cap and dress accented with a victory pin; and the third wore a military uniform. The 
poster could be had for the asking and it covered the Summer- 1943 issue of the Aframerican 
Woman 's Journal. 

Eleanor Roosevelt commended the We Serve America concept, as did the presidents of the 
National Council of Jewish Women, National Council of Women of the United States and editors 
of The Letter and Common Ground. Margaret Anderson, of the latter publication, observed, "I 
have become increasingly aware of the fine job they ["colored women"] are doing in defense 
industries and civilian defense-often after a disheartening and uphill fight to be allowed to 
participate. Their courage and spirit and accomplishment in the face of these difficulties compel 
admiration." 86 

Underscoring its importance, "Wings over Jordan," the Sunday radio program hugely 
popular in black America, officially launched the week. On that same day, addressing more than 
two thousand people, Bethune, Harriet Hall of Boston, and Arenia Mallory of Lexington, 
Mississippi, kicked off the celebration at the Reverend B.C. Robeson's Mother AME Zion Church 



180 
in New York. In various places women observed We Serve America through "mass meetings, 
parades, teas, birthday parties, forums, radio parties, and other activities." While NCNW's 
national affiliates appeared indifferent, at least five metropolitan councils and a few other 
organizations, implemented the program. Washington and Atlanta went all out. In the latter, 
NCNW members staged an enormous parade, with fifty army jeeps, twenty-five organizations, and 
fifty thousand participants. It enabled that council to sell bonds totaling more than $10,000. 87 

Bethune deemed the Washington celebration "magnificent." At the Phyliss Wheatley "Y," 
she awarded certificates to junior hostesses for USO facilities. Women living in the Langston 
Residence Hall, a hotel for black female government workers maintained to help relieve the war- 
related housing crunch, held a Community Sing, conducted by the great Nathaniel R. Dett. The 
program featured also a speech from Bethune. Residents of Lucy D. Slowe Hall, another 
government hotel, attracted approximately four hundred people to a grand birthday tea for 
Bethune, the likes of which she had never seen. Senators, judges, and people from all walks of 
life came. News reel images of it flashed across the land, thanks to the Office of War Information. 
Moreover, Slowe Hall women, with their NCNW chair Marguerite Johnson, raised $257.00 of the 
$630.00 the council garnered during the week. The results of "We Serve America" were 
gratifying enough for council to sponsor a repeat performance the next summer. 88 

While the "We Serve America" week featured an aggregation of activities, on June 3, 
1944, a singular event, blessed by Eleanor Roosevelt, demonstrated minority women's patriotism 
in a new way. With the cooperation of the New England Shipbuilding Corporation in South 
Portland, Maine, the 10,500-ton S.S. Harriet Tubman was launched under NCNW sponsorship. 
This was a U.S. merchant marine Liberty Ship built to transport supplies to overseas troops and 



181 
allies. During the war, eighteen would be named for African Americans. 

In commemorating Tubman, the NCNW had assumed responsibility to pay for the 
construction of her namesake vessel by stimulating the sale of war bonds totaling $2,000,000. 
The organization would emphasize that in buying bonds, purchasers personally honored the 
freedom-fighting spirit of Harriet Tubman. At the launching ceremony, the well-heeled council 
member who had founded and controlled the Apex beauty empire, Sara Spencer Washington, 
purchased a $10,000 bond. This slim, attractive cosmetics mogul posed with NCNW Secretary 
Jeanetta Brown, with the bond between them, for the council's Summer 1944 journal, "The S.S. 
Harriet Tubman Issue." 89 

But the day belonged to American heroine Harriet Tubman (c. 1 821-1913), the best known 
conductor of the Underground Railroad and, in the words of historian Darlene Clark Hine, "the 
only woman in American military history to plan and execute an armed expedition against enemy 
forces." Born a slave on Maryland's eastern shore, when about 28, Tubman escaped from 
bondage. Later, this unschooled woman made at least fifteen trips back into the South to guide to 
freedom more than two hundred relatives, friends, and strangers. Despite suffering from 
narcolepsy, she worked so effectively-she never lost a passenger-that Maryland planters offered a 
$40,000 reward for her capture. At the Harriet Tubman launching, the NCNW's Mary Church 
Terrell observed that the honoree had been an anti-slavery lecturer enthusiastically received all 
through New England, "an ardent advocate of woman suffrage," a Civil War scout, spy, and nurse, 
"going from camp to camp, nursing the sick of both races." Terrell alluded also to Tubman's best- 
known military service, which occurred in 1863. This courageous soul had originated, inspired, 
and led the raid from Port Royal, South Carolina, inland to the Combahee River, which destroyed 



182 
plantations supplying Confederate troops. In the post-war era, Tubman continued her good works 
by raising money for Southern blacks schools and establishing a permanent home in Auburn, New 
York, for the aged and indigent, of whom many were former slaves. 90 

Along with Tubman's relatives, about a dozen NCNW members witnessed the Tubman 
launching. First VP Vivian Carter Mason presided over the formalities. From Washington, D.C., 
came Secretary Brown, Historian Terrell, Marion Elliot, Venice Spraggs, and Dorothy Ferebee-- 
but no Mary McLeod Bethune. She was ill, probably with sinusitis, asthma, and exhaustion 
figuring into her malady. She had been confined to Washington's Freedmen's Hospital for weeks. 
Yet Bethune must have derived tremendous satisfaction from the launching in South Portland, for 
it was she who "had coveted this distinction" for Tubman. Most likely, ever since she had 
presided over the launching of the Booker T. Washington Liberty Ship twenty months earlier in 
Los Angeles, she had worked for one bearing the name of a black woman. Harriet Tubman was her 
most esteemed sister heroine and the favorite of council women also. They had designated her the 
patron saint of the Aframerican Woman 's Journal in its first issue. 91 

Bethune understood that both she and Tubman had been hardy farm laborers and, 
according to conventional beauty standards, unattractive. But she probably identified with 
Tubman for their other similarities. They shared unequivocal courage in the face of menacing 
dangers and obstacles, actions leading to concrete results, perseverence in actions despite frailties 
of the body, entrance into fields new to women that required remarkable rational thought and self- 
confidence, a passion for helping others, and a love of freedom uncompromised by class, gender, 
religion, color, or race. When Bethune wrote for the launching ceremony, "May the spirit of this 
great heroine [Tubman] permeate our hearts, and fill us with undaunted courage to carry on. . .," 



183 
she could not have wished for American citizens to possess a more genuine patriotism. 92 

Wartime Pride: Women's Army Corps 

World War II brought a new day for American women! They were permitted to serve in all 
the military services. In May 1942, the army led the way with the organization of the Women's 
Army Auxiliary Corps, which fourteen months later became a part of the regular army as the 
Women's Army Corps. During the war, however, African American women were barred from the 
23,000 female arm of the Marine Corps, as well as the Army Air Forces' civilian female adjunct, 
the Women's Airforce Service Pilots. Only in October 1944, just before the presidential election, 
did the women's navy and coast guard permit blacks entry: the 100,000 female navy, known as the 
WAVES, accepted 74; the 13,000 women's coast guard, called the SPARS, tolerated 4. Similarly, 
the 14,000 Navy Nurse Corps endured 4 as well. Although falling far short of ideal goals, the 
Army did better. At the end of the war, the Army Nurse Corps totaling 60,000 counted 500 
minority women; the Women's Army Corps, or WAC, with a total of 140,000 soldiers had 
enrolled 6,520 African Americans. 93 

During the global conflagration, race-sensitive liberals advocated the admission of black 
women into all the military services on a desegregated basis. None were more insistent than 
members of the NCNW. While having allies among predominantly black organizations, 
particularly the Alpha Kappa Alpha Non-Partisan Lobby and the NAACP, the nation's leading 
organizational advocates of women in the military, specifically the American Association of 
University Women and the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, 
ignored this issue. When race sisters gained admission to any military service, members of 
NCNW local chapters extended to them the welcome wagon when stationed in their communities. 



184 
The organization as a whole celebrated their achievements through its annual meetings and in the 
pages of the Aframerican Woman 's Journal 94 

Mary McLeod Bethune stood with and above the NCNW in advocating black women in the 
military and facilitating their careers. While still laboring to improve conditions for black brothers 
in the armed services, especially was she involved with the WAC, the service recruiting the largest 
number of African American females. The NCNW President was "the surrogate mother of these 
black women in the service," writes historian Martha S. Putney, who was a WAC officer during 
the war and decades later the author of When the Nation Was in Need: Blacks in the Women 's 
Army Corps during World War II. But Putney cast Bethune as even more. She was the "Guardian 
Angel of the Black Wacs of World War II." Openly calling them "my black Wacs," routinely she 
extended congratulations and praise profusely to any she encountered, in part to boost morale. 95 
She knew many personally, including some "Bethune-Cookman girls," and always made time for 
them and their issues. On June 9, 1943, in response to a greeting from the enlisted Lucy A. 
Humes, for example, she declared, "You know I am so deeply interested in all we are doing in all 
these fields [of war service]. There is so much to be done now by the women of the country and 
the world." Reciprocating, black Wacs regarded Bethune so highly, that contemporary white 
writer Ruth Danenhower Wilson found that mentioning her friendship with this great woman 
translated into an "Open Sesame" of information from them for her 1944 book, Jim Crow Joins 
Up 96 This section discusses Bethune's interest, and by extension that of the NCNW, in the 
women's army relative to the "First Months," "Segregated Life," and "Army Team Member." 

First Months 

In 1942, Mary Bethune probably made herself especially acceptable to the War 



185 
Department when she refused to demand an anti-segregation clause in the Women's Army 

Auxiliary Corps bill before it became law. While contending for integration, she ignored the 

requests of close NAACP allies, Chief Counsel Charles Houston and Executive Secretary Walter 

White, to make such a clause an issue. Presumably she thought that it would defeat the 

legislation, as the bill's sponsor had vehemently argued. Moreover, when Texan Oveta Culp 

Hobby was appointed director of the WAAC, based upon her brilliant work in the War 

Department's Women Interest Section and in behalf of the WAAC bill, the NCNW President did 

not protest the appointment on the grounds that a Dixie white woman would not treat blacks fairly, 

as did some black editors and Edgar G. Brown of the independent National Negro Council. 97 

Bethune's stance reflected her declaration after Pearl Harbor. "In behalf of the womanhood of the 

Country and particularly Negro Womanhood," she had proclaimed, "we hereby pledge ourselves 

[un] reservedly to the service of America, defending its freedom and integrity. . . . The National 

Council of Negro Women submerges any obstacles that would come between us and an all-out 

effort of America toward final victory." 98 Consequently, once the WAAC became a fact, as 

befitting her membership on the Advisory Board of the War Department's Women's Interest 

Section, she wanted African Americans in it. After conferring with Director Hobby, she 

announced that "a spirit of justice and fair play" would characterize the WAAC and it was " an 

opportunity for service of the best women of the race." Also, she declared that "Segregation 

[within it] was another battle that had to be fought and won." 99 

Given her sense that she and the NCNW had "to stand shoulder to shoulder with all other 

women of the country in bearing our part of the responsibility for winning the war," Bethune, 66, 

wanted a more formalized connection to the Women's Corps. She was open to an assistant 



186 
directorship. This orbited out of reach, however, when the army quickly announced that all 
would-be officers had to join the corps and weather officer-training. I0 ° Nonetheless, Uncle Sam 
had a job for Bethune. On May 14, 1942, when Congress passed the WAAC legislation, the War 
Department had anticipated that segregation would repel the best-qualified black women from 
signing up. To counteract that, it determined on an intensive recruiting campaign. "An eminently 
qualified person, preferably a Negro recruiter," an internal memorandum stated, "will be sent out 
to colored colleges in order to secure the proper class of applicants." 101 There existed no more 
"eminently qualified person" than the National Council President. Consequently, on June 27, 
1942, the War Department borrowed her from the National Youth Administration for a minimum 
of four or five days to serve as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of War for selecting WAAC 
officer-candidates. 102 

Bethune welcomed the challenge. She touted the WAAC among black women. When 
local army recruiters in Charlotte, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and other places refused black women 
application blanks, in addition to contacting WAAC headquarters, women sometimes appealed to 
Bethune. She emphasized to all the benefits of entering the army auxiliary, but even more the 
patriotism exemplified by joining-up. "We cannot stand on the outside when women of every 
nation and country where freedom is at stake are standing up and reaching out to share in the 
struggle," she explained. For the world is ours as much as it is any man's who ever walked the 
land." 103 With army assistance, this well-known recruiter did a good job in selecting "women of 
character, leadership, and cooperative attitude," who met the exacting criteria for officer- 
candidates. Some she personally sought out and persuaded to become Waacs. All whom Bethune 
selected had gone to college and many had graduated. 



187 
On July 20, 1942, as a special representative of the War Department, Bethune was waiting 
to greet WAAC recruits when they began basic training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. As she 
inspected the post, like a preacher after church, she had a cheerful hello for everyone in sight. 
Noel Campbell Mitchell later remembered that Bethune told blacks there, that the War 
Department "did not want us in the first place, so we had to set an example. 104 When the officer 
candidates were assembled, Bethune went on the record as follows. 

I bring you the greetings of the War Department. 
I bring you the greetings of more than eight hundred 
thousand members of the National Council of Negro 
Women. You are at this moment the representatives 
of fourteen million Negroes in America. Here at 
Fort Des Moines we have democracy in action. We 
are asking for equal participation. We are not going 
to be agitators. We are real Americans, and as 
Americans we must give our all to protect America. 
I know you are going to arise above any criticism 
that could possibly be made against you. I have an 
abiding faith in you. My blessings upon you. 

This being the case, six weeks later, in spirit though not body, Bethune hovered over the 36 out of 
39 ebony women, who with 400 classmates received commissions as WAAC officers. 105 

Segregated Life 
Blatant racial segregation at Fort Des Moines had presented African American women with 
mountains other Waacs had not climbed. To reinforce the War Department's policy of 
segregation, the army and Director Hobby interpreted Bethune's remarks at Fort Des Moines as 
approval-for the situation was "democracy in action"~and that blacks were not to complain. But 
these women did complain. Others did likewise. John A. Lapp of Chicago took the matter to 
Eleanor Roosevelt, noting, "While bad enough for any one, such treatment seems especially 
shabby when accorded these well educated and highly trained Negro women." 106 When the First 



188 
Lady asked Bethune about discrimination at the WAAC Training Facility, the black leader, 
although understanding the situation well, used the occasion to solicit the knowledgeable Charles 
P. Howard of the Howard News Syndicate to conduct an inquiry. With civilian searching parties 
from the YMCA, the Boston Urban League, the Julius Rosenwald Fund, the NAACP, and other 
agencies at Fort Des Moines, the Howard probe was one of many. I07 Others would follow, 
including a War Department inquiry instigated by Bethune upon receiving a telegram charging 
more discrimination from ten African Americans at Des Moines. Bethune acted on complaints, for 
she advised uniformed women to solicit help from her, the council, and other external 
organizations, rather than fight segregation themselves. 108 

Journalist Charles Howard found that John Lapp's charges of discrimination to Eleanor 
Roosevelt were true. African Americans were housed together in a building at the east end of 
WAAC barracks and were required to eat together at special tables in the southeast corner of the 
dinning room. They could use the USO (United Service Organizations) center and swimming pool 
only under discriminatory rules. The could not use the officers' club at all. All black officer 
candidates were assigned to one platoon. The officer training staff was lily-white. In defense, 
Post Commander Don C. Faith, announced, "That was army policy." In truth, although an 
auxiliary, the Women's Corps enjoyed no liberty to act independently of army apartheid 
regulations. 109 

Unfortunately, by mid autumn, racial separatism in WAAC training escalated. Bethune 
learned that it was justified in her name and that of Lieutenant Harriet West, then the Personnel 
officer for black Waacs-having graduated in the first officer class in August. Previously, West 
had been her aide in the National Youth Administration. Refuting the heresy, Bethune submitted a 



189 
statement to the NAACP's Walter White, who revealed its contents to African Americans at the 
WAAC post. "I have read with great alarm your findings on the status of segregation being 
practiced in the training of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps at Fort Des Moines," she wrote. 
"Specifically, I am even more alarmed because of information coming to you and to Negro 
members of the WAAC indicating that I have given my approval to this segregated plan of 
operation. I have never at any time approved segregation at Fort Des Moines." 1 10 

Once the assertion of blacks advocating segregation was laid to rest, things improved. By 
December 1942, the NAACP announced that "the segregation policy at Fort Des Moines is 
slackening." The army was finding it easier to mostly integrate the relatively few blacks, rather 
than uniformly insisting on segregation. The next year, Ana Aikens, an enlisted African American 
who experienced basic training at Des Moines, thought that "conditions on the post were pretty 
fair." She noted later, "We only had segregated service clubs." She could have added that black 
officers had no service club. 111 Not even Bethune could facilitate ebony officers' using the only 
officers club on base. Before the war ended, on one of her several individual inspection tours of 
military facilities, she found that one of her own, WAC officer Dovey Mae Johnson [Roundtree], 
could escort her everywhere at Fort Des Moines, except into the officers' club. To everyone's 
surprise, the Post Commander threw a farewell dinner for Bethune in this facility. Nevertheless, it 
remained taboo to black officers. 112 

Segregation not only governed aspects of life at Fort Des Moines but often Waacs' 
assignments in the field. On the grounds that they had skills for little else, too frequently some 
black Waacs found themselves sweeping and mopping hospital floors. During the summer of '43 
at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, for example, six of them declined to do so. While the War 



190 
Department conceded that these women were improperly assigned, it resolved the issue by 
permitting them to resign. This occurred at a time when anybody could leave the Corps because of 
its transition from auxiliary to regular army. " 3 

About eighteen months later at Lovell Army General Hospital at Fort Devens, 
Massachusetts, another incident of enlisted African Americans refusing to do floors occurred. For 
this, on March 20, 1945, the army court-martialed them, with a sentence of hard labor for a year. 
News of it swept through the country. Like most black Wacs at the hospital, the white powers had 
classified these four women as orderlies, while giving few white Wacs that designation. Hospital 
Commandant Colonel Walter H. Crandall had told them that he wanted no black Wacs in the 
hospital's motor pool or assisting as medical technicians. 

Bethune had repeatedly attempted to see Colonel Hobby about the situation, but she had 
been unavailable. As usual, however, she got through to Eleanor Roosevelt. Subsequently, 
President Roosevelt summoned Hobby to the White House. Also, Bethune contacted Secretary of 
War Henry Stimson noting, "The issues involved are so serious and the implications so broad that 
we beseech you to make your own personal investigation." As three New York Congressmen 
called for an inquiry, the NCNW hired two lawyers to investigate the case. On April 3, 1945, sanity 
prevailed. The army voided the sentences on a technicality and restored the four women to active 
duty. 114 

For black Wacs, segregation not only held sway in training and assignments but usually off- 
base too. The government's deliberate placement of numerous military posts in the South to 
enhance its dragging economy compounded difficulties because the region was determined to deny 
all African Americans— in uniform or not— free use of public accommodations, so as to reinforce 



191 
their subordinate status to whites. Among those that Southern-style racism hit hardest were two 

black Wacs in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. A pair of policemen brutally beat them for allegedly 

violating segregation laws and then drew them in jail. Moreover, the army initiated court martial 

proceedings for the same reason. The council appealed to Secretary of War Stimson and Kentucky 

Governor Simeon Willis to intervene. Also, it supported the NAACP in their defense. Although 

the city released the Wacs from jail and the army halted court martial proceedings, they never 

received justice. l15 

While Bethune and the NCNW lived with the reality of segregation outside the military, at 
times they bowed to its inevitability within. Even so, they insisted on a modicum of fairness, as 
when the army ordered the dissolution of the black band at Des Moines, on the grounds that it was 
an unauthorized "excess," while maintaining the prohibition of blacks in the white band. Band 
director Lieutenant Thelma B. Brown informed Bethune about this situation, which had caused 
enlisted band members to lose their ratings. Bethune sounded the alarm, making inquiries and then 
writing directly to Colonel Hobby on August 14, 1944. Many African Americans complained to the 
War Department. Under pressure, it ordered the band's reactivation, noting that the base 
commander favored it for morale purposes. 116 

Just as with the band incident, on the grounds of fairness African Americans wanted sister 
Wacs to have the opportunity for overseas duty. The first white Wacs began to serve on foreign 
soil in January 1943. Bethune and other powerful voices agitated for African American Wacs to 
follow. In the late summer of '44, Bethune reiterated to Colonel Oveta Hobby "that colored Wacs 
be allowed to serve overseas." In the WAC official history, author Mattie E. Treadwell asserts, 
"Pressure of Negro groups finally forced the War Department to direct the European [TJheater [of 



192 
War] to accept Negro Wacs." Consequently, the 6888 th Central Postal Battalion came into being, 
commanded by one of the Corps first officers, Major Charity Adams. While one woman suggested 
that the army should have sent the NAACP overseas instead, generally members of the battalion 
welcomed going to Europe to route the mail." 7 Along with Colonel Hobby, Bethune had 
anticipated seeing the troops off from Camp Shanks, New York, in early February, 1945. Instead, 
she sent a telegram. 

It was my hope to meet you and confer with you and 
give my blessings before your departure. It is now too 
late. We are depending upon you. We have much at 
stake. You represent 15 million of us. Your success 
in this courageous service is ours. Think well. Realize 
your individual responsibility. Carve a nitch for those 
who will follow you. God Bless you. 
Mary McLeod Bethune National Council of Negro Women 

A year later, when the bulk of the battalion returned to the states from England and France, a proud 

Bethune stood welcoming them home with Hobby's successor Colonel Westray B. Boyce in New 

York. 118 

Both at the time and later, knowledgeable individuals concurred that Bethune 's advocacy of 

foreign duty for uniformed black women proved crucial. Historian Martha Putney writes, "Bethune 

indeed played a central role in the deployment of black Wacs overseas." Margaret Barnes Jones, 

public relations officer of the 6888 th , believed this as well. Interestingly, she was the daughter of 

Margaret E. Barnes, reputedly a friend of Bethune's and the Ohio State President in the National 

Association of Colored Women, who in 1937 published that "the organization of the national 

council [NCNW] was untimely due to the financial condition of the national [National Association 

of Colored Women]" and it set-off "an uproanng flame that threatened to consume our very 



193 
spirit." 119 Without her National Council, however, it's unlikely that Bethune could have as 
effectively advanced the career of Barnes' daughter and thousands like her. 

Although confronting segregation at most turns, Mary McLeod Bethune's interest in the 
women's army extended beyond a role tailored-made for a president of ebony women. When in the 
summer of '42 it became known that the Corps would require a second training facility, she viewed 
this army through the eyes of a hometown partisan. The fact that beautiful Daytona Beach, 
Florida, was racially a "Closed Society," as historian Robert E. Snyder emphasizes, obviously was 
not Bethune's priority, for she maneuvered to have the WAAC Center in that city. She telephoned 
Eleanor Roosevelt, who, agreeing with her thinking, made it happen. Even with drawbacks, 
Daytona alone sought to host WAAC training. Rather than displace occupants of military posts, the 
army high command accepted the city's proposal. It activated the center on October 10, 1942, and 
began receiving trainees in January 1943. As a contemporary local columnist observed, "Had it not 
been for the coming of the Waacs, Daytona Beach would. . . have been a ghost town." 120 

But these Waacs, numbering at one time more than 14,000 were all white. Little wonder 
that one knowledgeable commentator wrote that some of Bethune's war-time work was 
"unrecorded because of its confidential nature." Certainly the press made no explicit links between 
Bethune and the Second WAAC Training Center. Yet in the early 1950's when Leroy Harlow 
moved to Daytona as its new city manager, he learned almost immediately an open secret: Mary 
McLeod Bethune had brought that center to town. Uncle Sam's training dollars for thousands of 
soldiers had showered the area with new vitality. Although the center was completely closed by 
March 1944, its cantonment facilities became the Welsh Convalescent Center, a roller rink, a 
center for the blind, and the Daytona Beach Community College. 121 



194 
In interceding for a Daytona WAAC Training Center, several considerations must have 
crossed Bethune's mind. As the president of a struggling college dependent in part on the charity 
of the area's tourists and residents, here was an opportunity to approach the city fathers, not as a 
beggar, but as a municipal benefactress. Since the facility was going to land somewhere, why not 
where it would it would benefit friends and those who might become so? She must have reasoned 
also that the white only center would not injure black women because they could receive identical 
training at Des Moines. Perhaps more fundamental was Bethune's inclination to function as a 
leader in the broader society, thus transcending the "Negro Box" when an opening permitted. "She 
had to restrain herself all the time," friend James C. Evans remarked, "so as not to get out of 
bounds." 122 

Army Team Member 
Despite continuously pushing non-discriminatory measures, Mary McLeod Bethune did so 
within bounds, using the nuanced language of diplomacy. If she knew anything, it was getting 
along with people. She used her White House contacts well also. Additionally, she was a 
distinguished college founder-president responsible for a significant component of a government 
program, as well as chief of a credible national female organization. In sum, Dr. Bethune stood out 
as the nation's most visible civic woman of color. Unsurprisingly, therefore, in 1941 after applying 
pressure as noted earlier, she sat on the War Department's Women's Interest Section Advisory 
Council, consisting of more than thirty organizations. With the formation of the National Civilian 
Advisory Committee about three years later, she became a part of that too—the only African 
American, out of about twenty-five women. Seemingly in the former group, membership consisted 
of organizations, meaning that the president of a member-organization determined its 



195 
representative, who could change; in the latter, membership consisted of prestigious individuals 
selected by the War Department. WAC Chief Oveta Hobby called the Civilian Advisory, "General 
[George] Marshall's Committee" because the Army Chief of Staff reputedly selected all twenty- 
three members. 123 Like the Advisory Council of the Women's Interest Section, it focused on the 
Women's Army Corps. The War Department kept members of both committees informed of new 
developments though conferences, written communications, and observations at military facilities. 
It usually gave their questions, commentaries, and requests consideration. The committees' 
endorsement of the WAC enhanced its standing both locally and nationally. 

Mary Bethune delighted in serving on the Women's Interest Section Committee and the 
National Civilian Advisory Committee. Through them, she became acquainted with a greater 
cross-section of mainstream America's prominent civic-minded women; conversely, more came to 
know her and her causes. As in the case of Mrs. Mary Pillsbury Lord of New York City, who 
chaired women's activities for the National War Fund, sometimes this translated into some 
attending gatherings of the National Council of Negro Women and otherwise taking an interest in 
it. Whether this occurred or not, Bethune was committed to giving her best to army committee 
work, including a Civilian Advisory sub-unit, the Committee on Religious and Morale Services. 124 
Her involvement may be glimpsed in the solicited recommendations the NCNW made to the WAC 
regarding black recruitment and her report of a military hospital tour. 

In August 1943, the WAC requested from the NCNW recruitment advice because of a 
downward recruiting spiral stemming from vicious rumors of sexual permissiveness in the Corps, 
attrition due to conversion from auxiliary to regular army, and the hesitancy of black women to 
subject themselves to racist military policies and discipline. Bethune had known of the nonchalance 



196 
among blacks, especially since a year before the unfounded rumors and conversion, the War 
Department's Truman Gibson had apprized her of a "decided lack of interest on the part of Negro 
girls" in the WAAC and had pleaded, "stimulate your women's organizations to urge Negroes to 
join." 125 

Bethune and the council prefaced their report to Colonel Oveta Hobby and her Executive 
Officer Colonel Thomas B. Cation by observing, "It was difficult to make recommendations for 
recruiting because of segregation. Full integration is the goal we seek." Even so, NCNW offered 
ten pieces of advice. One was irrelevant because it violated the policy of no Wacs replacing 
civilians. Two applied equally to enlisted women and officers. The council weighed in against an 
all-black regiment at Fort Des Moines that the War Department had contemplated. Also, it favored 
overseas duty for black women. It learned that the idea of an all-black regiment had been discarded 
and that overseas duty was under consideration. 

The NCNW's seven other recommendations targeted black officers. Like Bethune's 
council's work in general and her National Youth Administration work, the emphasis was on 
leadership. Amid the staggering strength of armed services apartheid, she concentrated on the 
officer cadre, a segment of the military in which the Roosevelt Administration acted to ameliorate 
segregation. The council advocated that black officers experience basic training in a relatively 
hospitable locale and have access to all specialized training opportunities available to others. It 
recommended more black officers to recruit, to counsel, and to build morale relative to other 
blacks. On the other hand, it advised that some officers to be given opportunities to classify jobs, 
to operate programs, both on post and in Washington, and to do other work not necessarily 

1 ^fk 

targeting race sisters. 



197 
The WAC accepted the council's recommendations in modified form. Implementation 

produced improved morale and tangible benefits. It failed however, to yield the results anticipated: 

significantly augmented numbers of African American Wacs. In the year following the 

recommendations, the net gain in black enrolles was about 750; for whites, about 34,000. Over that 

year, the black contingent of the WAC steadily dropped and the ratio of black officers to black 

enlisted women was about half the white rate. Moreover, Colonel Hobby shied away from Bethune 

after '43, on the grounds of her unpredictability. 127 

Even though hugely under-represented in the Women's Army, ebony women still visibly 
served, a fact that Bethune relished. During July 16-24, 1945, after victory in Europe but before 
Japanese surrender, a hospital tour afforded her one of many opportunities to observe their work, 
housing, and adequacy of training. As a member of the National Civilian Advisory Committee, she 
toured six hospitals engaged in the physical and mental rehabilitation of soldiers from the battle- 
fronts. They were located in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Her group, 
one of five traveling through different geographical areas, consisted of five other women. They 
prominently identified with the American Red Cross, National War Fund, National Citizenship 
Education Program, a University Psychiatry Program, and the WAC. 

Black women, either as nurses or Wacs, were engaged in much-needed services in several 
hospitals visited. At Valley Forge General Hospital in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, Mary Bethune 
observed Wacs assisting in making plaster masks to be used in planning soldiers' future surgery. 
This black female icon noted that the Halloran General Hospital, on Staten Island, employed 
seventy-five black Wacs and England General Hospital in Atlantic City, a hundred. All worked in 
an integrated setting. Obviously she took pleasure reporting that Lieutenant Ruth Wallace served 



198 
on the Dietitian's staff at Halloran. No African American nurses or Wacs, however, worked at 
Cushing Hospital in Framingham, Massachusetts; Rhoads Hospital in Utica, New York; and Mason 
Hospital on Long Island, New York. 

Wounded black soldiers from all over the country, some lacking an eye or a limb or two 
and sometimes worse, were glad to see the legendary Bethune. She was eager to greet all, but 
especially those sheltered at Atlantic City's "palatial cultural setting," the Dennis Hotel, the abode 
of her group for two nights. She remembered when she and race leaders Walter White and 
Channing Tobias had sat for thirty minutes with President Roosevelt to help disabuse him of the 
contemplated separate recuperating facilities for blacks and whites. "We told him," she recalled, 
"that it could be done without friction with the proper staff to promote it." At the Dennis Hotel, 
Bethune discovered a fulfilled-prophecy, for there had been "not a single sign of friction." She 
visualized such integration throughout the land "if men at the top," she wrote, "will only have 
courage to see it through." 

Civilian adviser Bethune characterized the entire tour as "most informing, inspiring, and 
satisfactory." The satisfaction would have been greater had all hospitals hired black nurses or 
Wacs. Moreover, she declared, "I came away with a great question mark in my mind as to why" 
none of the hospitals employed an African American physician. "We [who are of African descent] 
want to help others as others are helping us," she contended. "We are more and more wanting to 
work with others than to have other work for us." Bethune worked with the WAC through the 
National Civilian Advisory Committee until it disbanded in the summer of 1948. About that time, 
the WAC, too, was dislodged, for women soldiers faced integration into the regular army. I28 



199 
As the Allies gained ascendency in World War II, at home the National Council of Negro 

Women increasingly progressed towards achieving its charter objectives. It was federating national 

black women's organizations, serving as a clearinghouse of information, promoting the civic 

participation of black women in mainstream America, and sponsoring projects benefitting African 

Americans. The initial disbelief of some women about the council's ability to make a difference 

"has been erased completely, since the activity of the Council has found its way into almost every 

section of the country," observed the women's editor at the Pittsburgh Courier in 1942. "We 

needed the Council and it has proved a [boom] of service second to no other national Negro 

women's organization." 129 Many informed people agreed. 

Notes 



1. Quoted from NCNW Proceedings of Annual Meeting, November 26, 1938, 65, NCNW 
Papers, Series 2, Box 1, Folder 4, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, National Historic Site, 
National Park Service. 

2. Regarding the number of dues-paying national affiliates: Annual Financial Reports from 
Treasurer Addie Dickerson on November 27, 1937, November 25, 1938, and November 4, 1939 
(showing payments in '38), NCNW Papers, Series 11, Box 4, list the Daughters of the Improved 
Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, Iota Phi Lambda Sorority, National 
Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, and Phi Delta Kappa Sorority. Twenty NCNW national 
affiliates are printed on stationary in Bethune to Dr. Charles Johnson, August 23, 1943, Mary 
McLeod Bethune Papers, Fisk University; NCNW member Venice T. Spraggs's column, Chicago 
Defender, October 30, 1943, Tuskegee Institute Newspaper Clippings File, Tuskegee University, 
noted that at the '43 annual meeting the National Jeanes Association joined the council. 

Regarding the number of metropolitan councils: The first New York chapter claimed that it 
was organized in 1938 in Ruth Caston Mueller, ed., Women United: Souvenir Year Book 
(Washington, D.C: National Council of Negro Women, 1951); the first mention in a NCNW annual 
meeting of a local council having organized was in the NCNW Minutes, November 4, 1939, 4, 
National Council of Negro Women Vertical File, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 
New York City; Arabella Denniston to Bethune, May 8, 1943, NCNW Papers (Series 5, Box 10, 
Folder 172) lists new councils in Chicago, St. Louis, and Richmond; the NCNW Minutes, October 
15-17, 1942, 8, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 1, Folder 15, lists new councils in Atlanta and Kansas 



200 



City; Bethune in her NCNW Annual Report, October 15, 1943, Mary McLeod Bethune Vertical 
File, Schomburg, states that during 1942-43, councils developed in Pittsburgh, New Jersey and 
Washington. 

While Bethune stated in her 1941 NCNW Annual Report, Mary McLeod Bethune Papers, 
Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation (BF), Bethune Cookman College, that eight local councils 
existed, corroborating evidence has not been found. 

3. NCNW Proceedings, November 26, 1938, 7-12. 

4. Jeanetta Welch Brown, NCNW Annual Report of the Executive Secretary, October 15, 
1943, NCNW Vertical File, Schomburg. 

5. Chicago Defender, November 1 1, 1939, 17; Pittsburgh Courier, October 25, 1941, 10; 
Bethune' s opinion recounted in "Declares There Is No Place for Discrimination," Pittsburgh 
Courier, November 1, 1941, 9. 

6. Pittsburgh Courier, October 25, 1941, 10. 

7. "The National Council of Negro Women, " Chicago Defender, October 24, 1942, 
Tuskegee Newspaper Clippings. 

8. Aframerican Woman's Journal, Conference Issue 1941, 12. 

9. Summaries of the NCNW annual meeting, (including "Overview," "Concerns Expressly 
Voiced" and "Dinner Session"), 1938-1943, are based primarily on NCNW minutes and/or 
proceedings, 1938-1942, and accounts in periodicals of the meeting 1938-1943, in the Aframerican 
Woman 's Journal, Afro-American [Baltimore], Chicago Defender, New York Age, New York 
Amsterdam News, Pittsburgh Courier, and Washington Afro-American; also, various articles in the 
Tuskegee Newspaper Clippings, and typed or printed NCNW programs of annual meetings, 1939 
through 1943. 

10. "What The Leaders' Say!" Pittsburgh Courier, October 25, 1941, 9. 

1 1 . NCNW Proceedings, November 26, 1938, 1 . 

12. Bethune to "Council Member," June 17, 1940, NCNW Papers, Series 4, Box 1, and 
Folder 12. 

13. Pittsburgh Courier, October 24, 1942, 9. 

14. Bethune to Will Alexander, October 26, 1943, NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 1, Folder 
2; Chicago Defender, October 30, 1943, Tuskegee Newspaper Clippings; Bethune to Charles 
Johnson, August 23, 1943, Bethune Papers, Fisk University. 



201 

15. Quote from Washington Afro-American, October 9, 1943, 10; flyer announcing the 
Interracial Work Shop and "Monster Mass Meeting," NCNW Vertical File, Schomburg. 

16. Alain Locke, ed., The New Negro (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, Inc., 1925), 5- 
16. 

17. Elaine M. Smith, "International Council of Women of the Darker Races," in 
Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations, ed. Nina Mjagkij, 
(New York: Garland Publishing, 2001), 278-281; Quote from "Findings of the National Council of 
Negro Women in Meeting, Thursday, October 25, 1940," Section V, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 
1, Folder 8. 

18. NCNW Proceedings, November 26, 1938, 23. 

19. Telegram attached to NCNW Minutes, November 26,1938, Series 2, Box 1, Folder 4. 

20. Quote from New York Age, December 3, 1938, 4; Quote from NCNW Minutes, October 
25-26, 1940, 9, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 1, Folder 7. 

21. New York Age, December 3, 1938, 4. 

22. Pittsburgh Courier, November 8, 1941, 4; Cynthia Neverdon-Morton, "African 
Americans and World War II: A Pictorial Essay," Negro History Bulletin 51-57 (December 1993) 
8. 

23. Pittsburgh Courier, October 24, 1942, 1 1. 

24. New York Age, December 3, 1938, 4. 

25. Pittsburgh Courier, November 11, 1939, 8. 

26. New York Amsterdam News, November 11, 1939, 13. 

27. Aframerican Woman 's Journal, Conference Issue 1941, 6. 

28. Bethune to E.R., September 7, 1940, and Secretary to Mrs. Roosevelt to Bethune, 
September 13, 1940, Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New 
York; E.R., "My Day" [newspaper column], World Telegram [New York], October 18, 1941, and 
"700 Women Attend White House Tea," Globe and Independent [Nashville, Tennessee], October 
3, 1941, Tuskegee Newspaper Clippings. 

29. Dorothy I. Height Interview, The Black Women Oral History Project, Volume 5, ed. 
Ruth Edmonds Hills (Westport, CT: Meckler, 1991), 74. 



202 



30. Afro-American [Baltimore], October 25, 1941, 16; Pittsburgh Courier, October 25, 
1941, 10. 

31. Quote from unedited NCNW Minutes, October 25, 1940, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 
1, Folder 7. 

32. Quote from Pittsburgh Courier, October 25, 1941, 10. 

33. NCNW Proceedings, November 26,1938, 1-2. 

34. NCNW Minutes, October 25, 1940, 2-4. 

35. Bethune, NCNW Annual Report, October 15, 1943, 8, Bethune Vertical File, 
Schomburg. 

36. Hilliard, Chicago Bee, August 24, 1941, Tuskegee Newspaper Clippings; Courier, 
October 24, 1942,9-10. 

37. Defender, October 30, 1943, Tuskegee Newspaper Clippings. 

38. Julia Jones, Courier, October 30, 1943, 1 1, and November 1, 1941, 9. 

39. Quotes appear in Chapter 1 under "Introduction" and "Objectives." 

40. Susan M. Hartmann, The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940's 
(Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982), 55. 

41. New York Times, October 15, 1941, 16. 

42 . Washington Post, October 1 4, 1 94 1 , 1 5 . 

43. Pittsburgh Courier, October 1 1, 1941, 8, and October 25, 1941, 1, source of quote. 

44. Pittsburgh Courier, November 8, 1941, 1; Bethune' s Activities in the War Effort, 
undated, BF; Dorothy I. Height, "The National Council of Negro Women in the War- 
Program,"[1942],BF. 

45. Bethune, NCNW Annual Report, October 16, 1941, BF. 

46. "Mary Bethune Takes 800,000 Members into the National Council of Women, 
Pittsburgh Courier, November 1, 1941, 8. 

47. Ibid., source of quotes; Member organizations of the U.S. National Council 



203 

participating in the 1943 meeting are listed in Minutes of the Biennial Meeting, October 28-29, 
1943; For Bethune's participation in the U.S. council meeting in 1925 see New York Age, 
November 14, 1925, Tuskegee Newspaper Clippings; for her participation in the 1927, see Year 
Book and Directory of the National Council of Women of the United States, Inc., (New York, 
1928), 25, 32, 54, 59, 120. 

48. Lucy R. Milligan to Bethune, October 9, 1942 and Bethune to Milligan, October 15, 
1942, NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 24, Folder 366. 

49. Bethune to Mrs. Harold V. Milligan, March 22, 1943, BF; Terrell, A Colored Woman in 
a White World, (Washington: Ransdell, 1940), 370, states that the segregation at the International 
Council Meeting was the second "most serious friction" between white and black club women. I 
interpret this as admitting the denial of an office to a black woman in '33 was the cause of greater 
friction, given how exercised some women became. Nannie Helen Burroughs to Mary F. Waring, 
January 25, 1934, with enclosure, Nannie Helen Burroughs Papers, Library of Congress, explains 
that National Association President Sallie Stewart "took it upon herself to get the National 
Federation [NACW] off the official roster of the Council [of Women of the United States];" the 
U.S. Council Stationary shows Jennie B. Moton Fourth V.P. in 1940 and its minutes carry Ada 
DeMent as a Fourth V.P. in 1942, NCNW Papers. 

50. Bethune to Milligan, October 20, 1943, NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 24, Folder 366. 

51. Minutes, U.S. National Council of Women, October 28-29, 1943, Charlotte Payne to 
Bethune, November 3, 1943, Bethune to Payne, November 8, 1943; Lillian H. Alexander [one of 
five NCNW delegates], Report of the U.S. Council Biennial Meeting, October 29, 1943. 

52. Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy A Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 
1894-1994 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1999), 160-173. 

53. Bethune quoted from Minutes of the National Association of Colored Women, Inc., on 
July 27, 1941, 76; Bettye Collier-Thomas, The National Council of Negro Women, 1935-1980 
(Washington, D.C., 1981), 1 . For an intimate look at Bethune 's involvement in NACW affairs, see, 
for example, Bethune to Cecelia Smith, November 12, 1943, BF, Part 2, Reel 13; Bethune to Ada 
Belle DeMent, April 24, 1943, and DeMent to "Executive Board Member [NACW]," April 29, 
1945, BF. 

54. Executive Secretary's Report, 1940-1941, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 1, Folder 7; 
NCNW organizations appear in the Pittsburgh Courier, October 25, 1941, 8; also, see Note 2 of this 
chapter. Bethune declared in her 1941 NCNW Annual Report that the council had eighteen 
national affiliates and eight local chapters. NCNW financial records do not support these 
assertions, nor can the statements be otherwise documented. It is likely that eighteen organizations 
had expressed an interest in joining the NCNW and women in eight cities had expressed an interest 
in forming an NCNW chapter. 



204 



55. Memberships of NCNW's organizational affiliates are reported in the minutes of the 
executive board, October 24, 1940, NCNW Papers, Series 3, Box 1, Folder 1. 

56. "Mary Bethune Takes 800,000 Members into the National Council of Women, 
Pittsburgh Courier, November 1, 1941, 8; "What the Leaders Say !" Pittsburgh Courier, October 
25,1941,9. 

57. Telegram, Bethune to Howard Bearden and Family, September 17, 1943, Bessye 
Bearden Papers, Schomburg. 

58. Pittsburgh Courier, October 23, 1943, 6; NCNW Program of Annual Workshop, 
October 1944, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 2, Folder 22. 

59. Bethune quoted from the Afro-American [Baltimore], October 25, 1941, 16. 

60. Dorothy Height Interview, Oral History Project, Vol. 5, 69, reveals that sometimes 
women said unkind things about Bethune. 

61. Aframerican Woman's Journal (Summer, 1944), 19-21. 

62. The tenures of the executive secretaries are based primarily on NCNW minutes of 
annual meetings, 1938-1942; Dorothy Height Interview, Oral History Project Vol 5, 73. 

63. Pittsburgh Courier, April 24, 1943, 10. 

64. Denniston to Bethune, September 19, 1940, BF. 

65. Norman to Bethune, July 1, 1941, Bethune to Norman, July 3, 1941, Bethune to 
Thurman, July 3, 1941, Norman to Vivian C. Mason, July 9, 1941, NCNW Papers, Series 4, Box 1, 
Folder 21; Bethune, NCNW Annual Report, 1941, BF; NCNW Minutes, October 16-18, 1941; 

In the Dorothy Height Interview, Oral History Project, 69, Height reports that Bethune 
asked her to serve as executive secretary in Chicago, but the 1941 Conference Minutes, page 4, and 
subsequent documents show that Height was elected in Washington. Height states, "The next year, 
when I went to work in Washington, Mrs. Bethune then had me to serve as the registrar. . . The 
following year she had the meeting in Chicago." After she moved to Washington, Height's first 
NCNW convention was in 1940; the next year, the convention was in Washington again. It moved 
to Chicago in '42. "Farewell Reception Given for Miss Dorothy Height," Washington Afro- 
American, October 14, 1944, 14, reports that Height had been the "Y" secretary in DC. for five 
years. 

66. NCNW Proceedings, November 26,1938, 37. 



205 

67. Brown and Bethune quoted in Joyce Ann Hanson, "The Ties that Bind: Mary McLeod 
Bethune and the Political Mobilization of Women," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Connecticut, 
1997), 176-177. 

68. Brown, NCNW Annual Report, October 15, 1943; NCNW Proceedings, November 26, 
1938, 38. Carita V. Roane to Bethune, October 10, 1940, NCNW Papers, Series 4, Box 1, Folder 
12. 

69. Florence Norman to Marguerite [Margaret] Bowen, July 3, 194 1 , NCNW Papers, 
Series 4, Box 1, Folder 2 1 ; Bethune to Florence K. Norman, September 3, 1941, Series 4, Box 2, 
Folder 24. 

70. Bethune, NCNW Annual Report, October 16, 1941, BF; Bethune to Bessye Bearden, 
November 14, 1942, NCNW Papers, Series 11, Box 4. 

71. Eleanor Roosevelt to Bethune, April 17, 1943, BF; Bethune to Dr. Charles Johnson, 
April 24, 1943, Bethune Papers, Fisk University; Will W. Alexander to Bethune, November 12, 
1943, NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 1, Folder 2; Dorothy A. Elvidge to Bethune, January 5, 1944, 
NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 10, Folder 187. 

72. Brown, NCNW Annual Report, October 15, 1943. 

73. Bethune, Letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in Mary McLeod Bethune: Building 
a Better World, ed. Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith, (Bloomington: Indiana 
University Press, 1999), 173-174. 

74. Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and 
Sex in America (New York: William Morrow, 1984), 236-237; Minutes, Biennial Convention of the 
National Association of Colored Women, July 26-August 1, 1941, 29, states that the Committee on 
Resolutions recommended "Appreciation for Phillip Randolph, Water White, Mesdames Bethune 
and Moton for their assistance toward bringing about the proclamation issued by the President of 
the U.S.A. prohibiting discrimination of Negroes in Defense Industries." The most likely 
interpretation of this statement is that both Bethune and Moton were planning to have their 
members march on Washington with other blacks, had not Randolph and White reached an 
accommodation with FDR resulting in Executive Order 8801. 

75. Neil A. Wynn, The Afro-American and the Second World War (New York: Homes and 
Meier, 1975, ) 42-48. 

76. Bethune, "Negro Women Facing Tomorrow," Minutes, Biennial Convention of the 
National Association of Colored Women, July 26-August 1, 1941, 72-77. 

77. Robert L. Daniel, American Women in the 20' h Century: The Festival of Life (San 



206 
Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987), 125-127; Giddings, When and Where I Enter, 237-238. 

78. Pittsburgh Courier, April 10, 1943, 1; John A. Davis to Bethune, January 26, 1944, 
NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 10, Folder 174; Wynn, Afro- American and the Second World War, 
48-54. 

79. Pittsburgh Courier, September 18, 1943, 10; Brown, NCNW Annual Report, October 
15, 1943. 

80. Pittsburgh Courier, August 7, 1943, 1 1; Telefact [Monthly Newsletter of the NCNW], 
August 1943; Brown, NCNW Annual Report, October 15, 1943. 

8 1 . Wynn, Afro- American and the Second World War, 69-72. 

82. Jeanetta Welch Brown, "We Serve America" statement, July 3, 1943, Aframerican 
Woman 's Journal, Summer 1943; Pittsburgh Courier, November 6, 1943, 1 1 (source of quote); 
Washington Afro-American, July 10, 1943, 1 1. 

83. Bethune, Afro-American [Baltimore], July 3, 1943, 16. 

84. Bethune, "Certain Unalienable Rights," Bethune, ed. McCluskey and Smith, 20-27. 

85. Bethune, NCNW Annual Report, October 15, 1943; Brown, NCNW Annual Report, 
October 15, 1943. 

86. Aframerican Woman 's Journal, "The Negro Woman Serves America' Issue," (Summer 
1943), Cover; Brown, NCNW Annual Report, October 15, 1943; Anderson quoted from the Afro- 
American [Baltimore], July 3, 1943, 16. 

87. Brown, NCNW Annual Report, October 15, 1943; Afro-American [Baltimore], July 17, 
1943, 16. 

88. Bethune to Bessie Bearden, July 15, 1943, Bearden Papers, Schomburg; Brown, NCNW 
Annual Report, October 15, 1943; Telefact, August, 1943; Aframerican Woman's Journal, 
(Summer 1944), 6. 

89. Aframerican Woman 's Journal, (Summer 1944), is devoted to the launching of the 
Harriet Tubman: the front cover shows the huge ship; outside back cover, Washington and Brown 
with the text titled "Your Tribute to Harriet Tubman;" other journal features are "An American 
Heroine," 2; "Message From Eleanor Roosevelt," 3; "Message From Mary McLeod Bethune," 3; 
"The Launching," 3; "The 'Launching For Freedom' Program," 3; "Excerpts From Address by 
Mary Church Terrell," 4; "Our Challenge, by Dorothy Boulding Ferebee," 4. Casper LeRoy Jordan, 
"Sarah (Sara) Spencer Washington," in Notable Black American Women, ed. Jessie Carney Smith, 



207 
(Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1992), 1224-1225. 

90. Hine, "Harriet Tubman," in Black Women in America, Vol. II, ed. Darlene Clark Hine, 
et al., (Brooklyn. Carlson Publishing, 1993), 1 176-1 180; Terrell, "Excerpts from an Address." 

91. Aframerican Woman 's Journal, (Summer 1944), 3, 5; Bethune to D.E. Williams, 
August 25, 1944, BF; Bethune, "My Last Will and Testament," Bethune: Building a Better World, 
McCluskey and Smith, 60, named Tubman first in recounting great black woman of the past. 

92. Bethune, "Message From Mary McLeod Bethune," Aframerican Woman 's Journal, 
(Summer 1944), 3. 

93. Jesse J. Johnson, ed., Black Women in the Armed Forces, 1942-1974 (Hampton, 
Virginia, by the Author, 1974), 33, 41, 63; Susan M. Hartmann, "Women in the Military," in Clio 
Was a Woman: Studies in the History of American Women, ed. Mabel E. Deutrich and Virginia C. 
Purdy (Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1980), 203. The only estimate seemingly 
available for the total number of black women who served in the WAC appeared in advertising of 
the "Women in Military Service For America Memorial Foundation, Inc.," Dept. 560, Washington, 
DC 20042-0560. 

94. Susan M. Hartman, The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940's 
(Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982) 31-32, 45-46, 147-148; D'Ann Campbell, Women at War with 
America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984), 24-25; 

95. Putney, When The Nation Was In Need: Blacks In The Women 's Army Corps during 
World War II (Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, 1992); Brenda L. Moore's review of Putney's 
book in the Negro History Bulletin (December 1993), 70-72, reveals that Putney was a WAC 
officer; Martha S. Putney, "Mary McLeod Bethune: Guardian Angel of the Black WACs of World 
War II," Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society 12 (Spring and 
Summer 1991), 80-87. 

96. Bethune to Auxiliary Lucy A. Humes, June 9, 1943, BF; Wilson, Jim Crow Joins Up, 
(New York: William J. Clark, 1944), v. 

97. Putney, When The Nation Was In Need, 142-143; Pittsburgh Courier, April 18, 1942, 8. 

98. "Bethune Re-Pledges Loyalty of Women," Pittsburgh Courier, December 13, 1941, 8. 

99. Bethune quoted from Brenda L. Moore, To Serve My County, To Serve My Race: The 
Story of the Only African American WACs Stationed Overseas during World War II (New York 
University Press, 1996), 61; Bethune quoted from Putney, "Guardian Angel," 80 

100. Bethune quoted from Moore, To Serve My Country, 61; Mattie E. Treadwell, The 



208 

Women's Army Corps, Volume II of The United States Army in World War II (Washington, D.C.: 
Department of the Army, 1954) 58-59; Putney, "Guardian Angel," 80. 

101. Treadwell, Women's Army, 592. 

102. Aubrey Williams to Henry L. Stimson, June 13, 1942, Aubrey Williams Papers, 
Franklin D. Roosevelt Library. 

103. Bethune quoted from Putney, "Guardian Angel," 81 . 

104. Ibid., 81-82; Bethune quoted from Moore, To Serve My Country, 54. 

105. Bethune quoted from Putney, "Guardian Angel," 82; Pittsburgh Courier, September 3, 
1942, 9. Of the 40 African Americans selected for officer training, one failed to report. 

106. John A. Lapp to Eleanor Roosevelt, August 12, 1942, BF. 

107. Malvina Thompson to Bethune, August 24, 1942, BF; Treadwell, Women 's Army, 590- 
591. 

108. Putney, "Guardian Angel," 83; Moore, To Serve My Country, 71 . 

109. Howard to Bethune (with attachments), August 21, 1942, Howard to Bethune, 
Handling of Negro Officer Candidates, August 26, 1942, Charles P. Browning to Bethune, August 
24, 1942, BF. 

1 10. Putney, "Guardian Angel," 82; Bethune quoted from Louisville Defender, November 
21, 1942, Bethune File, Moreland-Spingarn Research Center. 

111. Pittsburgh Courier, December 5, 1942, 1; Aikens quoted from Washington Afro- 
American, July 10, 1943. 

1 12. Putney, "Guardian Angel," 83-84. 

113. Washington Afro-American, July 10, 1943. 

1 14. Memphis World, April 13, 1945, BF; Putney, "Guardian Angel, 84; Moore, To Serve 
My Country, 78, Bethune quoted from this source, 7; Aframerican Woman 's Journal, (December 
1945), 6. 

115. Moore, To Serve My Country, 77; Aframerican Woman 's Journal, December 1945, 6. 

1 16. Putney, "Guardian Angel," 84; Moore, To Serve My Country, 76-77, 80. 



209 



1 17. Bethune quoted from Moore, To Serve My Country, 80; Treadwell, Women 's Army, 
559; Putney, When the Nation Was In Need, 17. 

1 18. "Guardian Angel," 84-85. 

1 19. Putney, When the Nation Was In Need, 9, 15-16; Pittsburgh Courier, April 24, 1937, 
9. 

120. Synder, "Daytona Beach: A Closed Society," Florida Historical Quarterly, 81 (Fall 
2002), 155-185; Treadwell, Women 's Army, 77-78, 632 and quote in same source, 211; Elizabeth 
Knapp "Volusia County recalls: The day WACs arrived," Pelican, May 16, 1982, 6. 

121 . Activities in the War Effort, n.d., BF; Leroy Harlow, Without Fear or Favor: Odyssey 
of a City Manager (Salt Lake City: Brigham Young University Press, 1977); Mary Lou Teeter, 
"Memorial Day Fact: WAACs once occupied Daytona Beach," Daytona Sun Times, May 2002, 6. 

122. James C. Evans Interview with the Author, November 10, 1972, Washington, DC. 

123. Putney, "Guardian Angel," 80, 84; Bethune to Marcia Henry, July 7, 1948, BF, Part 2, 
Reel 14. 

124. General Dwight Eisenhower to Bethune, February 2, 1948, BF, Part 2, Reel 13. 

125. Truman Gibson to Bethune, August 1943, BF. 

126. Florence Murray, The Negro Yearbook, 1944 (New York: Current Reference 
Publications), 109 (all recommendations given); Moore, To Serve My Country, 55. 

127. Putney, When the Nation Was In Need, 207; Putney, "Guardian Angel," 84. 

128. Bethune, "Report of a Hospital Tour in the East,"in Bethune: Building a Better 
World, ed. McCluskey and Smith, 175-177; Bethune to Marcia Henry, July 7, 1948. 

129. Julia Jones, "Talk O' Town" [column], Pittsburgh Courier, August 8, 1942, 9. 



210 



PART II. 1318 VERMONT AVENUE 
EXPANDING BLACK WOMEN'S PARTICIPATION IN CIVIC AFFAIRS 



Chapter 4 
Victories and Hopes: New Home, Old Issues 

Introduction 

Beginning in the mid-1940's, the American star in the world was rising. Turning the 
corner in the war in the Pacific and in Europe, the United States and Allies went on to triumph in 
World War II. Yet it and the Soviet Union, a former ally, descended into the Cold War. 
Nonetheless, they cooperated with others to create the United Nations to promote peace through 
collective security. It welcomed an ever-increasing number of nations, some just breaking the 
bonds of colonialism. The U.N. became operative during good times in the U.S. Contributing to 
prosperity were pent-up demands for civilian goods and services, easy credit, veterans benefits, 
and rebuilding war-torn Europe through the Marshall Plan. For Africans Americans in war and 
peace, the "Double V" campaign: Victory Abroad and Victory at Home, reflected their 
yearnings. Economically, they generally held hard-won gains, as did white women, although 
black women suffered slippages. But civil rights proved illusive, even with President Harry 
Truman leading the charge in the post-war period and counting some gains. 

As the United States surged forward in the world, women continued to exert less political 
power than their numbers would suggest, but were always in a better position as group than were 
African Americans as a group. When acting politically through female organizations they 



211 
suffered in comparison to pressure groups dominated by men. The latter organizations usually 
stood for vested interests. With axes to grind, they lobbied with an edge and their constituents 
contributed mega-bucks to campaigns. An organization such as the homogenous National 
Business and Professional Women's Clubs, which consisted mostly of salaried employees rather 
than owners or managers, "lacked the funds and prestige of the men's organizations" and usually 
had to act alone. Another type of women's organization, the heterogeneous League of Women 
Voters also lacked an edge because its modus operandi was to study an issue to achieve a 
consensus. One scholar concluded that by mid-century, American women generally lacked the 
experience for major policymaking positions in the political sector and lacked the control of 
wealth in the business sector to have anything but a limited political status. ' 

Yet, women's limited political status had propelled approval by both major parties of the 
Equal Rights Amendment in principle. It did not result in a legislative victory, however. While 
all reputable women's groups believed in equal pay for equal work, they divided over the issue 
of adding these few words to the U.S. Constitution: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be 
denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." In 1944, the 
National Council of Negro Women, representing "all the important leadership among Negro 
women," weighed in. Opposing the Equal Rights Amendment, it explained, "It would not secure 
equality of treatment for women, except at the heavy cost of abandoning the great body of laws 
that protect women workers from exploitation." This was in keeping with the thinking of 
Eleanor Roosevelt, leaders of the major unions, and others. Congress skirted the issue by 
passing the Full Employment Act of 1946. 2 

The NCNW consistently sided with liberal unions on major policy issues, such as ERA. 



212 
When Vice President Estelle Massey Riddle was asked in a 1946 radio interview, what her 

organization was doing to promote the employment of black women, she enumerated several 
things. "We stress Union membership as fundamental to job security," was one of them. 
Along that same line, later that year, her organization's official position was, "We will 
encourage Negro women workers to study the labor movement and understand their stake in 
unions, to integrate themselves in union activities and offices, and work for inclusion in unions 
that now draw the color line." Given all that, it was ironic that the National Council of Negro 
Women experienced a brouhaha over the unionization of its staff. 3 

On December 12, 1946, four staffers, as members of Local #27, United Office and 
Professional Workers of America, Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), formally 
requested that their union be recognized as the sole bargaining agent for the NCNW staff. These 
were Marian S. Williams, Katheryn S. Shryver, Gladys Thomas, and Ellen Randolph. Phi Beta 
Kappa Public Relations Secretary Shryver, honored by the NCNW for her work as executive 
secretary of the National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax, had only joined the staff that year. 
On January 25, 1947, when the NCNW Executive Committee met, it determined that with its 
willingness to provide paid vacations, personal leave time, over-time pay, sick pay and 
competitive salaries, that something other than the usual bread and butter concerns had led to 
unionization. With Executive Committee sanctions, on January 27 th , the staff was fired. Each 
member received more than a month's advance pay in lieu of a thirty-day notice. Loans from 
board members made that possible, for the NCNW had less than $500 in the bank and about 
$2,500 in unpaid bills, and lacked a bank loan due to the absence of collateral. The only paid 
employees left were the housekeeper and Executive Director Mame Mason Higgins. The latter 



213 
resigned on February 15 th citing the smear campaign of released employees. While the NCNW 
lacked the financial stability to honor a union contract, the council's dismissals probably 
resulted also from Bethune's lack of tolerance for airing negative internal affairs in public. As 
historian Joyce Ann Hanson illuminates, council leaders considered betrayed by the staff, for 
they viewed its outside approach to grievances "acts of disloyalty" to the NCNW "family." 4 

Eventually, the NCNW weathered the dissension both internally and externally that firing 
four employees had created, especially with Anna Arnold Hedgeman as Executive Director and 
the contributions of member-consultants with specialized expertise. It wasn't easy, however. 
The council lacked a full staff and Mary Bethune was away during most of the 1946-47 
academic term, as acting president of her Florida college. Moreover, the public witnessed the 
council's greatest weakness: the absence of financial support from the 800,000 plus women it 
claimed to represent. To supplement dues, the organization continued to limp financially with 
fundraisers, including sponsorship of a baseball game here, a boat-ride there, Bethune birthday 
programs around July 10 th , and so on. This not only reflected the lack of a tax exempt status, but 
also the low incomes of black women. After the Second World War, 40 percent of them in the 
labor force worked as domestics, and so many others were only a half-step from that. These 
circumstances coupled with disfranchisement for about half of them and poor schooling for 
many more underscored black women's organizational weakness in influencing national life and 
their destiny of struggling harder than others to accomplish most things. 

Even so, by its tenth birthday, the National Council of Negro Women had grown enough 
for its President to deem it "a great social force, offering services of information, morale 
building, leadership training, representation and national unity to Negro women~[and] offering 



214 
information and opportunity for constructive fellowship to all women." 5 The council did indeed 
make concerted efforts to reach beyond race, for it included white women leaders as members 
and in various activities. And, in 1944, it made contact with Washington's international 
community like never before. Importantly, it helped all to understand that black women had a 
right to be involved in international matters like others. This was a victory, however symbolic. 
While adopting a wider outreach, however, the fundamental public issues that the council 
addressed remained the same, from voting to employment. Central to the issues was the quest 
for civil rights, a term that gained greater currency with President Harry Truman's Civil Rights 
Committee. During Mary McLeod Bethune's day, the resolution of civil rights problems 
remained essentially hopes, even with the realization of piecemeal progress on some fronts. 
Beginning in late 1943, as the NCNW worked on international and domestic concerns, 
especially in relation to other women, it benefitted from a headquarters building. That edifice 
was the organization's greatest internal victory. This chapter of the Historic Resource Study 
considers these developments. 
Concerning Headquarters 

No organization with about a score of national affiliates, dozens of local chapters, and 
hundreds of life members could hope to function effectively near mid-century without a 
business-like headquarters. Herein is a discussion of the National Council of Negro Women's 
headquarters in the nation's capital, which it called Council House. The narrative traces the 
advocacy, realization, dedication, and functions of this building. In addition to housing 
NCNW's central operations, it provided a home for Founder-President Mary McLeod Bethune. 
Therefore, this sub-division relates aspects of the edifice of special significance to her. Also, it 



215 
notes her hope for something grander and her peace with Council House as it was. 

Vision and Implementation 

For years Mary McLeod Bethune had yearned for the National Council of Negro Women 
to house itself in a headquarters building. In 1941 as previously, council work was done in the 
living room of her small, two-room apartment on Ninth Street in the home of a dear friend from 
secondary school, Cecilia Smith, and her husband John. There, tired secretary Arabella 
Denniston would fall asleep, after the last volunteer had left with the dawn. For all, this 
occurred "at the end of a hard day's work on important full-time jobs!" 6 At the 1940 annual 
council meeting, Bethune had recommended, "First, that the headquarters of the National 
Council of Negro Women be established in Washington, D.C." Section I of the "Findings" of 
that conference read, "We endorse the recommendation of our President, Mary McLeod 
Bethune, that the Council acquire national headquarters, which shall be [a] memorial and shrine 
in honor of those pioneer Negro women leaders who hewed a pathway for us to follow." The 
women also wanted "to house and preserve historical archives depicting the history of Negro 
women." 7 The next year, Bethune kept the idea current. "The ownership of a building in which 
we could house historical archives of peculiar significance to Negro women is in itself a 
worthwhile thing," she wrote. "However, in addition to this, the acquisition of a permanent 
meeting place which would be available to all national groups as well as to the local groups in 
that community, and which building would reflect the competence of Negro women to purchase 
and manage an institution is a project which we hope very much were carried out at least within 
the next five years, if not earlier." 8 

While the NCNW had needed for years the space that a headquarters building would 



216 
offer, Bethune's exigencies in 1943 accounted for the timing of acquiring it. Fifteen months 
after the Council Chief had resigned the presidency of her Florida college to focus on work in 
the National Youth Administration, that agency had unexpectedly lost its funding, leaving 
Bethune at loose ends. As a consequence of soul searching privately and with friends, she had 
decided to concentrate on developing the NCNW, with an emphasis on race relations. In late 
1943, with the imminent loss of her NYA physical space as the agency rapidly approached 
complete liquidation, she understood that she had to have somewhere befitting her iconic status 
to receive visitors and conduct voluminous correspondence. And, if the NCNW were to function 
credibly, it required more space too. 9 

When Bethune learned of the availability of a row house with garage on Vermont 
Avenue in northwest Washington, she sent NCNW executive secretary Jeanetta Welch Brown to 
check it out. After Brown's approval, Bethune moved quickly, for housing in war-time 
Washington was at a premium. She tapped a few intimates to help with the $500.00 down 
payment. Either before or after determining to buy, through the good offices of Eleanor 
Roosevelt, Bethune obtained an appointment with Marshal Field, the enormously wealthy and 
liberal Chicago businessman who would assist Aubrey Williams to land on his business feet 
after his NYA career. Bethune solicited from Field $10,000. She applied this on the 
approximately $15,000 purchase price of the property. She was then ready to move in. 10 

The building was a three-story house with a raised basement at 1318 Vermont Avenue. 
"With its brick walls, one-story bay window, side-hall entrance, mansard roof with dormers, and 
rear ell, the house represents a paradigm of the row-house form that emerged in the 1 870s," 
according to the National Park Service authoritative 1993 Histonc American Buildings Survey. 



217 
When Bethune first saw the building, perhaps she could visualize how she and the organization 

would utilized its space. Except for storage, the basement, running the full length of the edifice, 
would be little used. On the first floor, they would receive visitors in the front room. What had 
been the dinning room would become the NCNW's Board Room, or small group meeting room. 
The small kitchen to the rear would retain its function. On the second floor, the large room 
facing the avenue would house the council office staff. Then Bethune could probably see her 
office next to it, with her bedroom and dressing room to the rear. On the third floor, the 
kitchenette would be used in the expected way. The other rooms would be bedrooms: three 
would have twin beds for visiting women and the fourth room, at least one bed for her 
attendant. 11 

On December 18, 1943, members of NCNW's Executive Committee, Board of Directors, 
and Legal Committee assembled at 13 18 Vermont Avenue to consent to Bethune's headquarters 
initiative. Collectively, these twenty-four women constituted a driving force in the organization, 
with the old New York- Washington axis dominating, as usual. As a part of it, Sadie Alexander 
came from Philadelphia. Four traveled from America's largest metropolis. Audley Moore, 
Gertrude Robinson, Helen Harden, and Eunice H. Carter. Ten hailed from the nation's capital: 
Bethune, Sue Bailey Thurman, Edna Browne, Bertie Derrick, Elsie Austin, Dorothy Ferebee, 
Marion Seymour, Venice Spraggs, Jeanetta W. Brown, Hilda V. Grayson, and Julia Sneed. 
Another, who lived on the east coast was Harriet Curtis Hall of Boston. After Washington and 
New York, windy Chicago had the next largest group: Eleanor Curtis Dailey, Marjorie S. Joyner, 
and Edith S. Sampson. The mid-west was further represented by Detroiters Rosa Gragg and 
Christine Smith. From western Pennsylvania came Ethel Ramos Harris. The South had only one 



217- 
attendee, Julia Pate Borders of Atlanta. 

The group was excited. Attorney Sadie Alexander exclaimed that the place was "beyond 
our comprehension." All officially approved. Moreover, they voted their beloved President the 
right to live in the house for life, free of charge. Even so, Bethune probably wound up paying 
for her quarters, one way or another. It would be her Washington residence until confidant Sadie 
Franklin packed up her things on November 21, 1950, after that year's annual council meeting. 
But all that was future. In December 1943, feelings of goodwill and gratitude abounded. The 
women documented the occasion with a group photo, which would be seem in their Aframerican 
Woman 's Journal. n 

The National Council had landed in a congenial location. "An air of civility and 
sophistication" prevailed in this desegregated Logan Circle community. It was relatively close 
to downtown and adjoined other prominent black neighborhoods, including the commercial 
center of black Washington on U Street. The NCNW's neighbors were about one-half black 
professionals. These included attorneys Belford and Marjorie Lawson, who lived at 8 Logan 
Circle and leased their third floor to Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. Bishop Matthews of 
the African Methodist Episcopal Church lived next door. Sweet Daddy Grace of the United 
House of Prayer for All People occupied 1 1 Logan Circle, and Dr. Thomas Smith conducted his 
medical practice at 14 Logan Circle. 13 

While the council's neighborhood was in good order, it's building needed upgrading. 
The organization found thousands of dollars to modernize. For example, in went new radiators 
and plumbing, including new fixtures for the second floor bathroom; and on the third floor, the 
addition of a bathroom. To furnish the house, Mary McLeod Bethune tapped individuals and 



218 
organizations. Local businessman Abe Lichtman was responsible for the front parlor. Also, he 

helped with the board room, which benefitted from Chicago's Congressman William L. Dawson 

large mahogany conference table and chairs. Other rooms were furnished by council members. 

On the second floor, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority assumed responsibility for the NCNW office; 

Delta Sigma Theta, Bethune's office; and Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, 

Bethune's bedroom and dressing room. On the third floor, Buena V. Kelly took responsibility 

for the front bedroom and furnished it in honor of her mother, Emma Kelley, founder of the 

Daughter Elks; Harriet Curtis Hall and Eleanor Curtis Dailey furnished the room behind it for 

their mother; and New Yorker Audley Moore took leadership in furnishing the third bedroom in 

memory of the NCNW former treasurer Bessye Bearden of New York, but it was called 

alternately the Interracial Room and the International Room. I4 

Dedication 

During the summer of '44 while recuperating from undisclosed illness, President Mary 

Bethune spent some anxious days in Daytona Beach spurring Executive Secretary Brown to get 

things done for Council House. Upon returning to Washington, the fall NCNW annual meeting 

was at hand. Climaxing it on October 12-15, 1944, was the dedication of Council House 

followed by an inspection and reception. For the Sunday dedicatory service, delegates and 

friends in their coats, furs, hats, and gloves assembled in front of the 1318 Vermont Avenue 

edifice, with most sitting in seats outside its short, decorative black fence. Major donors and 

program participants sat chiefly in a semi-circle on the higher ground just in front of the middle 

bay window. At the appropriate time, each speaker stood in the center of the half circle on a 

small platform, large enough for two, with a floor microphone in front. 15 



219 
When at 4:00 p.m. excerpts began from Antonin Dvorak's symphony, From the New 
World, all knew that the program had started. Edith Sampson began her assignment of 
presiding. Then came The Lord's Prayer. Bethune welcomed everybody. Elsie Austin gave 
facts about the new headquarters. She concluded, "This house has been obtained by the prayers 
and sacrifice of a few, but the devotion, idealism and ambition which surround it will spread to 
many; and the inspired efforts which it shall generate in years to come will be felt around the 
world." Esther Popel offered verses written for the occasion called "Jewels of Distinction," 
which President Bethune received. Three of America's leading women presented stimulating 
comments about the occasion: publisher-social worker Agnes E. Meyer, educator Charlotte 
Hawkins Brown, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Bethune's DC. pastor, Reverend Robert M. 
Williams of Asbury Methodist Church gave a prayer. Eunice H. Carter, chair of the Board of 
Trustees, formally turned over house keys to Dorothy Ferebee, chair of the House Committee. 
She in turn, opened the door to all gathered. When entering the beautifully decorated parlor, 
individuals faced flags from around the world displayed on the mantel in a semi-circular flag 
stand. The flags reminded all of the National Council's commitment to touch the world. I6 

Two days later, Bethune relived the occasion for her friend and Daytona Beach physician 
of many decades, Texas A. Adams. 

The dedication of our building Sunday was the grandest 
of them all [of all events during the annual council meeting]. 
You would really be very happy to see us in our setting now. 
The women laid down $9,275.00 in cash and thirty-day 
pledges. It was a most glorious outpouring of gifts by women 
I have ever seen. The dedication was held on the outside with 
police escorts, who had the streets blocked off from three to 
six in the evening. Washington turned out in her fullest. 17 



220 
House Functions 

Council House functioned in multiple and overlapping ways. It served as President Mary 

Bethune' Washington residence and office, and derived a stream of traffic from her interests. 

For example, since she usually favored a collective approach to problems, which the "Black 

Cabinet" had once embodied, from time to time she consulted with black leaders at her 

residence, as in 1945. In April she met with Washington businessmen for undisclosed reasons; 

in May, with leaders of national organizations to discuss pending legislation; and in June, with a 

group of men and women leaders to consider ways to maintain African Americans' wartime 

gains. Also, Bethune welcomed the local alumni chapter of Barber-Scotia College, her alma 

mater. It met there for business meetings and to host at least one tea. Just as local Scotia alumni 

used Council House, so did other local groups, including the D.C. metropolitan chapter of the 

NCNW and its youth council. NCNW's national affiliates or subdivisions thereof used the house 

too, including the National Association of Beauty School Owners and Teachers, Chi Eta Phi 

Sorority for nurses, and the Daughter Elks. People found the Council House site useful for an 

assortment of other reasons such as lodging for sixty-two women in six years; meetings of 

interracial church groups; a reception for a local physician; and on June 2, 1945, the venue for a 

wedding, the only one there in the 1940's. 18 

The Council House functioned, however, chiefly as the business and social site of the 

NCNW. Various council committees convened meetings there, from the Committee on 

Employment to the one on Intercultural Affairs. The group charged with the upkeep of Council 

House, appropriately called the House Committee, met more frequently there than any other. In 

1949, it probably worked overtime in refurbishing the building. Along with conducting 



221 
business, the council staged various social affairs, such as an Open House in January 1945, from 
4:00 to 10:00, on President Franklin Roosevelt's Fourth Inauguration Day. People who came 
were among the more than four thousand visitors to the house in the 1940's. J9 

One way of understanding the significance of Council House is to juxtapose its functions 
to the bedrock overlapping objectives of the National Council of Negro Women as delineated in 
Chapter One of this study. These were to unite or federate national organizations of black 
women; to collect, preserve, interpret, and disseminate data of interest to black women; to foster 
the participation of black women in national affairs "in the same manner as other Americans 
participate;" and to serve as "a channel and articulation for millions of Negro women in their 
struggle for opportunity and equality." The annual meeting was essential to uniting national 
organizations, the first objective of the council, and Council House facilitated this. The staff 
there probably went on overload around that time. It participated in various planning meetings 
and sent out much correspondence. Considering the lack of hotel accommodations because 
segregation ruled, probably Council House rooms for visiting women were taken early and 
accounted for most of its sixty-two lodgers in the 1940's. During the conference, very likely 
some staffer was always at the house to answer inquiries. 

Even though most sessions of the annual meeting were scheduled at the Department of 
Labor, some sessions were held at Council House. In 1947 when twenty-three national 
organizations were affiliated with the NCNW, for example, the day before the formal opening 
the Board of Directors—including presidents of national affiliates, Executive Committee, 
Metropolitan (local) Council Presidents, and the Headquarters Board of Trustees met at 1318 
Vermont Avenue, northwest. That was in the morning. In the afternoon all these groups met 



222 
collectively. Additionally, the Nominating Committee and Program Committee met. 

Registration occurred from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. At 6:00 p.m., the organization met the press. Six 

days later, the Board of Directors, Executive Committee, Board of Trustees, and Metropolitan 

Council Presidents all came back to headquarters for a final session, although the climax of the 

convention had occurred the night before. 20 

Just as Council House promoted the council's first objective, it did the same for the 

second. Much collecting, interpreting, and disseminating data of interest to black women, 

transpired in relation to the annual meeting. Also, much of this occurred through TELEFACT, 

the council's monthly newsletter, compiled at Council House and disseminated from it. The 

council staff also contributed to Aframerican Woman 's Journal and its successor, Women 

United. This was in fulfillment of the clearinghouse function, essential to a coordinating 

organization. But by 1949, constitutionally, the council was also to "preserve information 

particularly affecting women." On June 30, 1946, it advanced this goal through the observance 

of National Archives Day, complete with a brochure detailing ways it could be celebrated. Vice 

President Estelle Massy Riddle [Osborne] publicized that it was "a project designed to give 

impetus to the building of a National Museum at Council House- where the records, letters, 

books, pictures, medals and other authentic materials, suggestive of the struggles and 

accomplishments of Negro women can be assembled." Delta Sigma Theta Sorority observed the 

occasion, for example, with an "Authors' Tea" at Council House, during which black women 

authors and their works were presented. It was one of twenty-five receptions and teas there 

while Mary McLeod Bethune was president. 21 

As early as 1940, Sue Thurman had begun collecting for a NCNW historical exhibit on 



223 
black women. Six years later, Thurman's mother, Mrs. S.E. Bailey of McDermott, Arkansas, 
gave $1,000 to foster that type of endeavor. This spurred the development of a council library 
(and archives), that the organization dedicated to Bailey's memory on April 14, 1948. 
Interestingly, this paneled library was called also the conference room and the board room. 
Apparently, NCNW historian Sue Thurman was undeterred by the limited space therein. In 
1949, Thurman's committee requested that each local council bring a gift for the archives, and 
dress a black doll who would be named for a regional or national black woman; "that each 
region contribute a fine painting of a great Negro woman;" and that each council woman to 
submit her biographical statement. 

The Library and Museum Committee had already received a nice cache of items. It 
possessed one hundred commemorative stamps of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Thirteenth 
Amendment to the Constitution, which abolishing slavery. It had old newspaper clippings, 
historic clothes, an identity locket from the slavery era, and a veteran's Civil War medal. 
Moreover, it had President Bethune's Spingarn Medal that she had presented "in a deeply 
moving ceremony." 22 This was the NAACP annual award, the most prestigious in the Negro 
World, given to an African American making the greatest contribution to society. Bethune had 
won it in 1935 for founding and developing Bethune-Cookman College into a standard junior 
college. 

In addition to advancing the uniting and clearinghouse-preservation objectives, the 
Council House furthered also the other two bedrock NCNW goals. In the 1940's, the thrust of 
them involved mainstream society, for the organization was to foster black women's 
participation in it and to represent black women there. Bethune had joined these objectives and 



224 
Council House together at its dedication. "Here women of all nationalities can come together 

without fear or hesitancy, secure in the knowledge that they meet as equals and as workers 
striving together," she proclaimed. "We can think together objectively and opportunely and 
coordinate, for the greater benefit of mankind all the able and find things that women are doing. 
And finally," she said, "to take action swiftly and with deep purpose in the name of our common 
humanity." 23 

Judging from the report of the House Committee five years later, the kinds of interactions 
at headquarters with other women that council members had envisioned, in fact, occurred. 
House Committee chair Regina Chandler reported, "Our visitors and House Guests have been 
women of every nationality. It has given the women of other countries and races a chance to 
study and know more about the colored Americans' way of life and cultural activities. There 
have been women in every field of endeavor, Education, Art and Science," she maintained, 
"which has enriched the progress by integrating all women in better understanding the social, 
civic and political problems of the world." The House Committee further concluded, "The 
simple cup of coffee in the morning and the discussing of world affairs in the president's room 
or office with women from abroad and here at home have done much to achieve the glorious 
destiny of true and unfettered democracy." 24 

The non-African American women who visited Council House did so for varied reasons, 
just as others. Some came for meetings. The Continuation Committee stemming from the 
Coordinating Committee of Women's Organizations for Building Better Race Relations, met bi- 
monthly during 1944-1946 at Council House "to hear and exchange information from other 
members on current situations which involve minorities and to appraise the work of the various 



225 
organizations in this area," Mary Bethune reported in 1946. "This group has achieved a deep 
sense of fellowship while working together during the past two years," she stated. 25 In addition 
to meetings, some non-African American women visited Council House for parties, teas, and 
receptions. Probably the most impressive reception held there occurred in February 1948 for 
Haitian Ambassador Joseph D. Charles and Liberian Minister C.B.D. King and Mrs. King. The 
one that members looked forward to annually, however, recognized NCNW women honorees. 
For five years, beginning in 1945, the council designated a total of seventy-one women to 
receive its "Scroll of Honor." The scroll of anti-poll tax activist Virginia Durr, presented at a 
Council House reception, was illustrative of inscriptions. 

The National Council of Negro Women, Inc. 
Presents This Scroll of Honor to 
Virginia Foster Durr 
who has dared to cross frontiers of tradition, class 
and race to become a crusader in political action 
in the interests of the common people. 

Durr's scroll bore the city of the award, Washington, D.C., the date, March 15, 1946, and the 

signature of Mary McLeod Bethune. 26 In that year, eleven other women received citations. The 

best known were former ambassador Daisy Harriman, publisher-social worker Agnes Myer, and 

Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, California Democrat. Probably council members 

were proudest of Charity Adams, who commanded the only black women's battalion of the 

Women's Army Corps to serve in Europe during the war. Two years later, the two female 

members of President Truman's Committee on Civil Rights, Sadie Alexander and ME. Tilley 

headed a record eighteen honorees. The next year, Congresswomen Frances Bolton, Ohio 

Republican, and Chase Going Woodhouse, Connecticut Democrat, received scrolls along with 



226 
High Jump Gold Medalist Alice Coachman, a student at Georgia's Albany State College, and 

twelve others. 27 

Of the five "Roll of Honor" receptions at Council House in the '40's, the first one was the 

most memorable, and, of course, set precedents for the others. News of the event appeared in 

the women's pages in the black press, complete with program highlights and who wore what. 

The council mailed out a formal invitation stating that the reception started at 4:00 p.m. on a 

Saturday. In a general sense, it indicated reasons for the occasion. "Today when human values 

are so intimately tied in with the world-wide struggle for liberation," it began, "women are 

demonstrating in individual and group activities a sense of responsibility to their country and 

their times." It continued. 

The National Council of Negro Women is privileged 
today to honor these representative American women, 
who are but a symbol of the mind, the heart and soul of 
the womanhood of the world, who unitedly work for a 
world of peace, freedom and justice for all. 28 

Columnist Pearl Cox declared that it proved that the National Council of Negro Women 

was "catching the nation's eye." "You should have seen the 600 guests," she gushed, "that 

crowded the halls and stairs and jammed every room of the Council House [on] February 10, 

1945." Maybe Cox got carried away. Mable Alston of the Afro-American estimated that "more 

than 500" were in attendance. Anyway, Cox declared: "And such a Roll! Eleanor Roosevelt, 

'Woman of the Year;' Lillian Smith, author of Strange Fruit; Mary Ingraham, president, 

National Board, Y.M.C.A.; Anna A. Hedgemen, executive secretary of the National Committee 

for [a] Permanent FEPC [Fair Employment Practices Committee]," and other women acclaimed 



227 
mostly for civic leadership. 

Most of the sixteen honored women accepted the award at Council House. That 
contributed to the beauty of the occasion. In addition to those already named, the group 
included nurse-activist Mabel K. Staupers, American Women's Voluntary Services founder 
Alice T. McLean, NAACP field secretary Daisy Lampkin, anti-poll tax activist Katherine Shryer, 
Women's Army for National Defense founder Lovonia H. Brown, labor union vice-president 
Dorothy Bellanca, Non-Partisan Council legislative representative Thomasina W. Johnson, and 
NCNW executive secretary Jeanetta Welch Brown. Of the sixteen honorees, four were no- 
shows: columnist Dorothy Thompson and actress-singer Lena Home had previous engagements; 
war correspondent Bettye M. Phillips and Washington Urban League executive secretary Pauline 
Redmond Coggs were ill. 

Just as the honorees made this first "Roll of Honor" reception special, so did the 
program. It occurred before the guests were introduced. Solos, tributes, and speeches all had a 
place. Washington's Nannie Helen Burroughs, leader of Baptist women in her convention and 
founder-principal of the National Training School for Women and Girls gave the principal 
address. Madam Andre Liataud, wife of the Haitian Ambassador brought greetings. Madam Wei 
Two-Ming, Wife of the Chinese Ambassador sent a message. Those extolling the virtues of the 
honorees included Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, NCNW president Mary McLeod 
Bethune, and sculptress Selma Burke. Also, Burke presented a bust of Bethune, just completed 
for the occasion. 29 
Special to Bethune 

Although Mary McLeod Bethune regarded all of the Council House as important, some 



228 
rooms held a particular significance. The first was the living room or in Victorian vernacular, 

the parlor. There, she and her council members received visitors, who probably formed opinions 
about the organization based on what they saw. It had to be representative. Another favored 
space was her personal office, in which most of the business conducted related to the council. 
Then, of course, Bethune's bedroom was special to her. In this subdivision of the Resource 
Study, in addition to noting Bethune's aspirations for NCNW headquarters, images of these three 
rooms are reconstructed. They are as detailed or as vague as the photographs on which they are 
chiefly based. 

Reception Room 
Most photos of the front parlor illustrate its narrow width. When NCNW members took 
their first group picture in it they were in two rows: the first had nine members seated in fold-up 
chairs arranged in an attractive partial semi-circle; the second row consisted of fifteen members 
standing behind them. Had the photographer wanted the first row straight across the room, it 
would have been a tight squeeze, if not impossible. Once the room was furnished, especially 
with a baby grand piano, less space existed for such groups to pose. Almost always they 
assumed an arc position. 30 

Most people entered this front parlor from the front hall through large pocket doors, 
which appear original to the house. They faced a cut-glass prism chandelier, whose beauty was 
reflected in a large mirror, about the width of the mantel and extending from its base to the 
molding below the ceiling. The white marble French mantel, characterized by curving lines, 
floral ornamentation, and an arched opening, encase the fireplace. It appears original to the 
house. Aside from natural light provided by the two side windows in the adjoining room, 



229 
separated mostly by another set of large pocket doors, most natural light came through the three 
windows in the bay "nearly the full height of the 12'-high first-floor walls" bordered by ten-inch 
dark wood baseboards. The windows are large "since the entire north wall and half of the south 
wall lack windows." 

Nothing points to the excellent NCNW make-over of this front parlor than a comparison 
of before and after photos taken with the bay in the background, the angle of the majority of this 
room's photos. In the "before" picture, a sisal-like striped rug covers most of the hardwood 
floor. The curtained windows blend in with the walls, although their vertical wood frames are 
evident. Given the plainness of the window coverings, probably no top window treatment exist. 
The walls have no visible ornamentation. 

In any "after" photo, this view is different. Probably showing off the room best is a 
photo appearing in the March 1945 Aframerican Woman 's Journal, featuring Bethune leaning on 
the piano. (It appears in photocopied form at the end of the chapter.) 31 In this and in other 
photos, some hints of the rich wall to wall carpet, exhibiting swirling dark and light hues in a 
floral pattern show up. The front side walls of the parlor are centered by a decorated oval design 
in wall paper that extends down to wainscoting. But the most striking aspect of an after photo 
are the windows. When not obstructed by a group of people, they are a focal point of the room. 
Colored Venetian blinds hang in them, with dark vertical bands keeping the horizontal slats in 
place. These blinds are always visible, although each window is framed by shinny drapes and 
swags with a stand-out vertical floral pattern repeated throughout. Each drape panel bordering 
the side walls are tied back with the drape fabric, while the other four panels fall naturally to the 
floor. Extending from a wide cornice, a swag with graceful folds emanating from the center of 



230 
each hangs over every window. Its straight sides fall just a few inches below the length of the 

swag. The parts touching the interior drape panels are folded neatly and tapered into a design. 

Not only the rich yet restrained window treatment made the bay a focal point, but also its 
furnishings. The center window features a pedestal table with double decker rounded tiers 
separated by a slender column perhaps twelve to eighteen inches long. The bottom surface is 
larger than the upper. The table is flanked on each side by an armless upholstered chair that 
rolls outward at the top, with dark accents on both sides highlighting the curvatures of the back 
and seat, which are dressed in a glossy textured fabric. The only thing visible of the chair's 
square base is long fringe, in two rows. Angled towards each other, the chairs are the furniture 
pieces de resistance. 

Other impressive furnishings, however, adorned the room. A baby grand piano 
dominates the south front wall. It's bench is near the bay. A floor lamp with the glass shade 
turned upward occupies the corner. About one or two feet in front of each side of the white 
marble mantel stands a dark wood chair with caned sides, each slightly facing the other. On the 
side of the mantel to the back of the room appears a dark wood framed sofa and coffee table. 
Opposite it is another small sofa with a lamp table and shaded column lamp near the hall entry 
way. On the other side of the entry is a dark wood-frame occasional arm chair, a small sofa, and 
a twin table and lamp. All three sofas may be tuxedo style or close to it, for their arms might be 
the same height as their backs. The photographs this writer viewed did not picture the two sofas 
in the back section of the room clearly enough to identify definitively. 

This front parlor exudes a Victorian ambience in keeping with the architecture. As in 
many nineteenth century Victorian homes, it was the best decorated space in the house. 



231 
Frequently in such a home, a piano was in the room, sending unspoken messages: the owner had 
wealth enough to afford one and the mistress of the house was musically accomplished. Not 
only did the Council House possess a piano, but a baby grand. Mary McLeod Bethune had 
insisted upon it, although neither she or the council could afford one. Nor could they afford 
other furnishings in the reception room. The resourceful and persuasive Founder-President 
prevailed upon Abe Lichtman, owner of Washington's Howard Theater and other theaters that 
African Americans patronized, to furnish and decorate the room as if it were his own home. This 
he did, using his own decorators. The results pleased all concerned. In thanking the Lichtmans, 
Bethune declared, "I realized that I stood in the atmosphere of culture and refinement [in our 
reception room] that will help so much to build the unity we all so much desire." To a ole friend 
in Daytona Beach she wrote, "I wish you could see the house here. It is superb." 32 

Bethune' s Office 
In the headquarters building, Bethune got the office she needed. It was located on the 
second floor between the bathroom and the large NCNW office fronting Vermont Avenue. 
Fortunately, it contained a window "in the west wall, near the corner where the ell meets the 
main part of the building." This writer found four photographs of Bethune in her office, circa 
1945-1950: three black-and-whites; the other, color. In each she is seated behind her ample 
wooden desk topped by a glass cover, with no book shelf or file cabinet in sight, although logic 
suggests that they would have occupied the room. "From the Atlantic and the Pacific come calls 
to this desk," Bethune told one visiting newspaperman. "They call me from the Government 
departments~the War Department, the navy, the Wacs [Women's Army Corps]. . . as if I were a 
paid person. People just come to me." 33 



232 
The black and white pictures are mostly alike, exhibiting the desk facing the wall that 

has an entry to the adjacent NCNW office. Partially revealed behind the desk on one side is a 
closet; on the other, the window, decorated with Venetian blinds and pleated floral drapes in 
good contrast to the room's plainness. In between is a blank wall, except for a narrowly framed 
photograph, appearing to be eight by ten. In one office view, a crucifix hangs beneath it. 34 
Enough space is behind the desk for Bethune to sit comfortably in an office-type desk chair and 
have three women standing behind her. In the photo of these women, Bethune's desk top is on 
display. It shows a desk pad with sheaves of paper in a notebook-like folder on it, the standard 
black telephone of the period, day-by-day appointment calender, In Box filled with papers, 
writing pen holders with a pen actually in one, a few books between small book-ends, a dish- 
perhaps for candy, a glass paperweight, three roses in a small glass vase, and a few 
miscellaneous items. Also, on front edge of the desk, in the center, appears a name plate of 
raised letters reading "Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune." 35 A glass-covered dark wood table extends 
from the middle of the desk, long enough to accommodate two individuals sitting on each side 
with room for a fifth at the end facing Bethune. This photo of the NCNW President and seven 
other women handling mail, reveals that two are sitting in upholstered arm chairs. It appeared 
on the cover of the Winter 1947-1948 issue of the Aframerican Woman 's Journal carrying the 
caption, "All Hands Pressed in Service." The photograph suggests that at times Bethune's office 
became a general council workroom. 36 

Accompanying Genevieve Forbes Herrick's article on Bethune in the September 23, 1950 
issue of Collier 's magazine is the color photograph of the subject—taken after the other three, as 
Bethune's completely white hair revealed. For August 8, 1950, Bethune noted in her diary that 



233 
she made pictures for Collier 's. In this room carpeted in a lush maroon, Bethune is at her desk 
with its extender pulled out and her exquisitely-crafted cane against it. The cane had belonged 
to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After he died, it came to Bethune from his wife 
Eleanor. Two new things are on the desk: a photograph of Bethune with her son Albert McLeod 
Bethune, Sr., and a long-armed horizontal flourescent lamp extending over the desk from its 
side. Bethune sits in an elegant, dark wood curvilinear arm chair, with the seat topped in a 
muted blue fabric. This is the same background color in the wallpaper decorating one of the two 
walls seen in the photograph. The pattern consist of delicate groupings of different white 
flowers, seemingly painted over the blue as if they were thin clouds in the sky. 37 

Bedroom 
This same wallpaper appears on the side of Bethune' s bedroom window. In the July 
1949 Ebony, this investigator saw it in a small photograph of the room. In this shot, a 
traditional, dark-colored, solid headboard characterized by a backward curve at the top covers 
about two-thirds of a completely curtained window. In front of the other third is a dark night 
table, holding a shaded white lamp made of a delicately-shaped light ceramic base. A plain, 
light chenille spread dresses the bed, which is devoid of decorative pillows or other accents. In a 
long-sleeve, floor length robe, Bethune is sitting in an upholstered wing-back chair with her feet 
on an ottoman or footstool, turning the nob of a small television located on what could have 
been an end-table. This view of Bethune's room probably shows her furniture, but it appears to 
have been rearranged just for the photo because the T.V. is not positioned where Bethune could 
watch it from her easy chair. The maroon carpeting in the office probably covered Bethune's 
bedroom floor since the Council House Artifacts Inventory reveals maroon carpeting for the 



234 
entire second floor. 38 

Mary McLeod Bethune's bedchamber was the first room at the top of the stairs on the 
second floor. It had two windows overlooking the mini alley, which separated the Council 
House from the adjoining residence to the south. On the wall with the room's entry door, stood 
a fireplace encased in marble, as the one in the downstairs reception room. At the rear of the 
bedroom a small dressing room adjoined it, with Bethune's dressing table holding "in precise 
order, the latest in toiletries." 

While some have written of Bethune's second floor "suite," maybe the lady, herself, 
didn't think of it has a unit. Bethune had access to her office and bathroom from the hall. Most 
likely, all non-boarding visitors used this same bathroom because none other existed except the 
one on the third floor. It was impossible for anybody to go up or down the main staircase on the 
second floor without passing Bethune's bedroom. Too often she probably heard passer-byes, 
especially on the way to the bathroom or the NCNW office facing the street. The whole 
arrangement was less than ideal for an overworked, overweight, older woman suffering regularly 
from an assortment of maladies. 

In 1949 when Mary Bethune spoke of the need for black women "to build a permanent 
center in the nation's capital to serve both as command post for the council's far-flung activities 
and a monument to the American Negro woman," perhaps, she thought that it might also cater to 
the comfort and convenience of the NCNW leader living there. 39 A suite with a private bath 
accessed directly from the bedroom and located away from the floor's primary traffic flow 
would be in order. And, if above the first floor, an elevator would be nice. Had funds existed, 
Bethune would have installed one at 1318 Vermont Avenue to avoid the twenty-some steps from 



235 
the first to the second floor. 

The inconvenience Bethune endured at the above address probably added to her sense of 
relaxation when she went to 63 1 Pearl Street, Daytona Beach. In this two-story, white frame 
residence surrounded by green lawns and tall palm and oak trees, no unusually high ceilings 
made the climb to the second story harder. No national office functioned down the hall from her 
bedroom, and she didn't have to share a bathroom with a host of visitors. There, her private bath 
was accessible only from her bedroom. This bedchamber of large and impressively crafted dark 
wood furniture featured a wall of windows, one in intricately designed beautiful stained-glass, i 
which overlooked one end of her oak-shaded college. This had to have been good therapy. 40 

Aspiration and Reality 

Almost from the beginning, Bethune found that Council House was too small. The width 
of its lot was only twenty-three feet. As early as March 24, 1945, about two months after a 
reception there with wall to wall people, House Committee chair Dorothy Ferebee reported~at a 
NCNW meeting in the White House—of "the need for expansion to include a dining room on the 
first floor, as a means of extending our interracial work." Bethune then announced that the 
council would establish a Finance Raising Committee for $ 15,000. After another overflow 
reception about three years later, Bethune had determined that only another headquarters would 
suffice. On February 24, 1948, she wrote Sadie Alexander, "I have found the dream house for 
the Council Headquarters. ... It is spacious, beautiful and detached, right off Dupont Circle and 
would afford us the kind of cultural setting and surrounding that our Council must have." Also, 
Bethune noted, "I have had this idea in mind all these years." The next month she informed Sue 
Thurman, "We had selected a place on Dupont Circle but a racial question has arisen and it may 



236 
be difficult to get it but we are going forward. I want to get the consent of the members to go 

forward so that we may broaden out into a spacious building where our conferences may be held 

and can build for permanency." 41 By late October, it appeared that the "racial question" had 

trumped, for to a non-council member the Council Chief wrote, "We want a beautiful house on 

DuPont Circle or Massachusetts Avenue or somewhere where all the people, together, may build 

a better world." Bethune did more than write private letters. She won approval for a new 

$100,000 "palatial mansion in exclusive DuPont Circle" from the Executive Board. Moreover, 

she drummed up support for this "Dream House" among the membership. 42 

That Bethune wanted something grander than the council's Vermont Avenue place came 
as no surprise to anyone familiar with her work in the National Association of Colored Women. 
She had been the driving force in its acquisition of a $25,000 headquarters building opened in 
1928- without anybody giving an especially large sum—at 12 th and O Streets Northwest, within 
walking distance of Council House. Constructed of massive ashlar masonry blocks, it was a 
detached, two and a half story edifice with a full basement in the Richardsonian Romanesque 
architectural style popular in the 1890s for large civic and public buildings. As chair of the 
Board of Trustees for this facility, she had endeavored to expand it in the early 1940's, but the 
elected Association leaders balked. If Mary McLeod Bethune believed that the National 
Association of Colored Women, in its detached Romanesque-type building, required additional 
room, certainly she was committed to obtaining more for the NCNW. Nevertheless, this became 
an unrealized hope. 43 

Although a woman of vision, Bethune knew how to make the most of that at hand. 
Certainly, she was not one to cast aspersions on her handiwork. Although disappointed that a 



237 
more spacious NCNW building did not materialize during her presidency, she suppressed that 
fact, especially in 1949 when facing retirement (only to advocate a new headquarters again in 
the 1950's). But before relinquishing the presidency, she told council members the following 
about Council House. 

The soft velvet rug that carpets the staircase that leads to 
the office of the president has felt the tread of many feet- 
famous feet and humble feet; the feet of eager workers and 
the feet of those in need; and tired feed, like my own, these 
days. I walked through our headquarters, beautifully 
furnished by friends who caught our vision, free from debt! 
I walk through the lovely reception room where the great 
crystal chandelier reflects the colors of the international 
flags massed behind it—the flags of the world! I go into 
the paneled library with its conference table, around which 
so many great minds have met to work at the problems of 
the past years. I feel a sense of peace. 44 

Internationalism 

Internationalism had constituted a part of NCNW since the founding of the organization 
and it continued so between 1944 and 1949. The council participated in the first post-war 
meeting of the U.S. -European oriented International Council of Women, which was held at the 
University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, September 5-12, 1947. Mary McLeod Bethune was 
one of the ten official delegates of the U.S. National Council of Women, and the thirty 
Philadelphia NCNW members who attended hailed her participation as superb representation. 
In addition to Eurocentic bonds, the National Council of Negro Women continued to reach out 
to non- white women and finding kindred spirits, especially in India's Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, the 
sister of Indian leader Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the first woman ambassador to the United 
States and later, the president of the U.N. General Assembly. The council's closest ties, 



238 
however, were with internationals of African descent, as signified in February 1948 by a formal 

reception at Council House for Ambassador Joseph D. Charles of Haiti and Minister and Mrs. 

C.B.D. King of Liberia. 45 By that time, the council's internationalism had become 

institutionalized in its annual meeting. Its leaders regarded, however, the founding conference 

of the United Nations and its subsequent support as its chief international concern. Also, in 

1949, a new forum developed for a council representative to speak in foreign capitals in the 

name of the organization. This section surveys these matters. 

At Annual Meetings 

From 1944 to the end of Bethune's presidency, the council consistently focused on 

relationships with an international community. During the NCNW's annual meeting on Friday 

evening, October 13, 1944, in the Labor Department Auditorium, the first international session 

involving personnel from a number of foreign embassies began. Extending greetings by letter 

were the Canadian, Venezuelan, Yugoslav, Uruguayan, Polish and Peruvian embassies. Giving 

expressions orally were representatives of the Philippines, Liberia, Mexico, Costa Rica, France, 

China, Haiti, Great Britain, and Belgium. One reporter believed that the diplomats' participation 

was "extraordinary." As so often at NCNW formal programs, the Howard University Choir sang 

and more music came from other performers. While former U.S. Ambassador to Norway 

Florence Harriman delivered the chief address, intrepid organizational trailblazer Mary Church 

Terrell and Howard University's notable history professor Rayford Logan spoke also. The 

internationalism of the evening, according to Marjorie McKenzie [Lawson] "was to plunge the 

council's membership into conscious identification with the stream of world organization and to 

help it fit the problems of Negro women into the huge framework of the great issues of our 



239 
century. Mary McLeod Bethune remarked, "Our international and interracial meeting held at the 
Departmental Auditorium, was far beyond our most sanguine expectations." 46 

From there, International Night took off. It became a highly anticipated feature of the 
NCNW annual conference and always attracted embassy personnel. Representatives—including 
many ambassadors—of more than twenty-five embassies and legations attended the program 
three years later. "The keynote theme of the meeting was the urgency of relief for starving men, 
women, and children of Europe,"ran a line from the Pittsburgh Courier's article on "NCNW 
Program Boosts International Relations." During the '49 conference, wives of several 
ambassadors received NCNW members for tea. Embassy visits substituted for the annual 
reception at the White House, for the President and his family had moved out due to extensive 
restoration. 47 

Regrading the United Nations 

The NCNW's internationalism, however, targeted the world situation in the spring of 
1945, when the war in Europe was winding down. Then, the United States had determined to do 
a better job of winning the peace than after World War I. A United Nations was in the works. 
The configurations of its charter were to be decided in San Francisco at the United Nations 
Conference on International Organization. With fifty nations participating, this was the most 
significant international gathering of the era. Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinus led the five- 
member U.S. delegation, which included a woman, Virginia Gildersleeve, dean of Barnard 
College. 

If the U.S. had few official representatives, it had ample consultants. The State 
Department accredited representatives from forty-two organizations as consultants. Bethune 



240 
coveted a consultancy for her National Council of Negro Women. Having certified five white 

women's organizations, the State Department turned her down, conveying the idea that 

reopening the consultant list would be like opening Pandora's Box. Bethune, however, would 

not take no for an answer. Leaning on her high level contacts, the State Department approved her 

as an associate consultant with the NAACP, the only predominately African American with the 

status of consultant. Bethune had an honorary vice-presidency in that organization. In many 

situations she had worked closely with Executive Secretary Waiter White, a consultant to the 

U.N. meeting, and on occasion with scholar-editor W.E.B. DuBois, an associate consultant. Prior 

to the conference Bethune noted, "Negro women like all other women must take a part in 

building this world, and must therefore keep informed of all world-shaping events." 48 

Although the National Council of Negro Women was not a recognized organizational 

consultant, Mary McLeod Bethune would never let such a technicality obstruct images she 

wanted to project. "Through the president of the NCNW in her capacity as associate consultant 

to the American delegation," she reported to the National Council of Women of the U.S., "and 

through other members of the Council who were with her, the NCNW participated in one of the 

most important meetings on international affairs." "It was gloriously significant to see so large a 

group of Negro women in action and as observers at such an historic gathering," Bethune 

reported to her own organization. "Their presence and influence was felt among the other 

women of America and the world." Council members attending this U.N. conference were 

Dorothy Ferebee, Eunice Hunton Carter, Sue Bailey Thurman, Mame Mason Higgins, Mamie 

Davis, Ida Jackson, Vada Somerville, Hazel MacBeth, Jessie Terry, Buena Kelly Berry, Theresa 

Lee Robinson, Jewell House, Pauline Dailey, and Blanche Wilson. While Bethune mentioned 



241 
these fourteen by name, other council members attended as well. The NCNW leader considered 
the associate consultantship, her most cherished honor. "I regard it as the greatest opportunity of 
my life to lend my strength and spiritual power to the building of a new and better one- world," 
she declared. 49 Retrospectively, it appears strange that only a single black woman could attend 
such a significant world meeting in an official capacity. 

In a war- weary world, Bethune subscribed totally to the hope that the U.N. Conference 
embodied. Staying on the West Coast five weeks, her days were too full. She wrote Jeanetta 
Brown, "Regardless of the National Council or Bethune-Cookman, or anything else, my strength 
and thought must be given to this World Conference. This is so much value to the millions who 
will come after me." She stayed weeks longer than planned. While in California she spoke 
thirty-seven times at university assemblies, national and international gatherings, and other 
forums. She proclaimed, "Through the conference the Negro becomes closely allied with all the 
darker races of the world, but more importantly, he becomes integrated into the structure of the 
peace and freedom of all people, everywhere— the darker people are no longer a numerical 
minority." 50 

Below is a segment of Associate Consultant Bethune 's official conference report. 

Consultants held regularly scheduled meetings with delegates 
and technical experts on pivotal questions. Our job was to advise 
through discussion and later in recommendations to the American 
delegation, ideas and principles of the Charter. It was here that 
Dr. WEB. DuBois and I as associate Consultants and Walter White 
Consultant . . . played a distinctive role as members of the greatest 
racial minority in America. It was here that I never failed to voice 
the hopes and aspirations of the Negro people. I interviewed and 
conferred with many important persons, delegates, experts, and 
consultants, winning them to sympathy and support for a liberal 
position with regard to the abolition of colonialism, the 



242 



international bill of rights, and the inclusion of an adequate 
educational and cultural program into the Charter of the 
United Nations. 51 

In the spring of '46, the U.N., particularly through its Commission on the Status of 
Women, received Bethune as an honored guest at a reception for delegates and distinguished 
participants in the organization. Later that year, the NCNW expressed appreciation to its 
President "for her work toward the establishment and adequate program for the United Nations 
Commission on the Status of Women." Bethune's determined involvement with the U.N. set an 
example for her members. In the post-war years, council women discussed U.N. matters and 
American foreign policy and supported endeavors for global order and peace. Designed to 
further its members knowledge of and interest in the U.N., the National Council observed 
"World Security Month," in the spring of '45. To encourage each council group to develop an 
international program, one sister journalist argued, "Don't be an ostrich. . . the world has closed 
in around us and we are only just so many hours away from every section of the globe. We may 
as well recognize the fact that what affects Timbuctoo [Timbuktu], affects us and vice versa." 
At Council House the NCNW launched the month with Archibald McLeish of the State 
Department. 52 It participated in various U.N. meetings, such as the one on Non-Governmental 
Organizations in 1948. The next year, it participated in the second U.S. -wide observance of 
United Nations Day, brought about through the efforts of the National Citizens' Committee, 
through which the NCNW worked. In fact, Bethune was in the delegation that visited President 
Harry Truman to request that he make the day official, which he did. 53 

Eunice Hunton Carter, a well-traveled council member who attended the founding of the 
U.N. with Bethune, significantly advanced NCNW's UN. interests. She was its official observer 



243 
to that body. This provided her, as she described it, a "ringside seat in the arena of world 
diplomacy." On behalf of her organization, she joined several observer groups, including 
Women United for the U.N. and the Conference Committee of the United States Organizations 
for the U.N. It was through the observer groups that strong voices such as Hunton's contributed 
to resolutions forwarded to the United States U.N. delegation. While council women adamantly 
advocated a ban on the production of the atom bomb, they were more vocal about the plight of 
dependent peoples around the world. Therefore, they took a special interest in the work of the 
U.N.'s Director of Trusteeships, Dr. Ralph Bunche, a black brother. In 1948, for example, they 
stood against Italy regaining African colonies lost in World War H 54 

Edith Sampson with the World Tour 
The NCNW's internationalism exhibited several faces. The face of Edith Sampson 
glowed the brightest. In the summer of 1949, this Chicago attorney and chair of the council's 
Executive Committee took a two-month, 35,000-mile odyssey around the world, stopping in 
seventeen capital cities. Traveling as the council's representative, but at her own expense, she 
was a member of the Town Hall World Seminar, an incorporated program to broaden 
Americans' understanding of global issues, to voice the U.S. interest to people around the world, 
and to promote peace and the democratic process. The Seminar included delegates from twenty- 
six other prominent organizations, including the American Bankers Association, the American 
Library Association, the American Legion, American Federation of Labor, Lions International, 
the NAACP, U.S. Conference of Mayors and others. While wounding down, the seminar elected 
Sampson its president. Her primary responsibility was to take to the American people in all 
regions the findings of the group. The NCNW had claimed innumerable times that it existed, in 



244 
part, to give black women representation in national and international affairs. It did itself proud 

in designating Sampson to the Town Hall Seminar. She gained great visibility and subsequently, 

landed an appointment as a U.S. alternate delegate to the U.N. General Assembly, where she 

worked closely with the country's U.N. ambassador, Eleanor Roosevelt. 

On the '49 world tour, through interactions with a broad spectrum of people in western 

Europe, the Middle East, India, and Pacific countries, Sampson concluded that "people were 

pretty much the same: all sought peace, happiness, and security." The seminar advanced her to 

the front line through the East and Far East, for in those areas people had had "little or no 

contact with an American Negro woman. I found," Sampson reported, "women throughout the 

world eager to know about Negro women," especially those in Pakistan, India, and Japan. At 

each capital visited, the Town Hall Seminar held a Round Table on the theme, "Peace with 

Individual Freedom and Well Being." Sampson participated in those originating in Paris; Berlin; 

either Istanbul or Ankara, Turkey; New Delhi; and Manila. She also held forth in a Round Table 

from Honolulu. "On each and every occasion, the name of the National Council of Negro 

Women was 'spelled out,' thereby giving information throughout these countries about the work 

of our organization," she informed council sisters. The discussions were broadcast in the states 

over the ABC radio network. 55 American embassy reports from countries that the seminar 

visited complimented it. All reports emphasized that the seminar benefitted greatly from the two 

African American members, Sampson and Walter White. 56 Seminar director Chester S. Williams 

conveyed some understanding of Sampson's contribution in this letter to Bethune on August 12, 

1949. 

Dear friend Mary: 



245 



While waiting here in the Karachi airport for the plane 
to Delhi, I thought I would drop you a note about Edith Sampson 
before my vivid impressions might be blurred. From the 
beginning she has been a terrific member of our group. 
Everybody loves her and is delighted to have such a fine- 
spirited woman as a companion of this tour. At various 
times along the way she has risen to the occasion with just 
the right note and important expressions of the views of 
Negro women. 

In Berlin she was such a good sport that she 
struggled through a broadcast in German with Mrs. [J. Blair] 
Buck of the General Federation [of Women's Clubs] and Miss 
[Anna Lord] Strauss of the League of Women Voters as the 
guest of a leading women broadcast, a Frau Leber— and she 
answered the [Paul] Robeson line [that the U.S. had oppressed 
blacks but the Soviet Union had raised them to "the full dignity 
of mankind"] with a sweet-spirited remark appreciating his 
[Robeson's] cultural accomplishments and pointing out that on 
political matters he spoke only for himself— while she could speak 
for a membership of 800,000 Negro women. 

I could recite many instances to show how important to 
our general cause of expanding democracy in the world the 
presence of Edith on this tour is, but I wanted to mention just one 
today. I was not at a meeting of Pakistan women's groups with 
the leaders of our women's organizations. . . but ever since lunch 
time I have heard nothing but excited appreciation for what Edith 
did. First, she responded to a question about Negroes in America 
by giving a sincere statement of her own struggles and the life of 
Mary Bethune as evidence of both the difficulties and the 
opportunities in America. She so impressed the Pakistan women 
leaders there that they expressed the desire to pay her way 
'round the world as a gift of appreciation for her visit. She did 
not turn it down in a flustered way, but with wonderful courtesy, 
knowing that a gift is not to be rejected in the East, accepted it 
and then asked the ladies to do her the honor of accepting the 
same amount from her for their social service work in Pakistan. 
In addition to that she invited them to become honorary members 
of the Council [NCNW], which they accepted, embracing her with 
tears in their eyes. 

I can't begin to tell you what it means to me to have Edith 



246 

with us. And I believe that it is doing a vast amount of good for 
the Negro women of America and for the country we all love and 
want to make as fine as we can. I wish we might have had you 
with us, but you must know that Edith has been a wonderful second 
choice. Best of health to you. 

Much love to you. 

Chester [signed] 

Chester S. Williams 

Director, World Town Hall Seminar 57 

Domestic Issues 

Wnile NCNW officers kept before the membership foreign concerns, the organization 
remained focused on domestic issues. The 1947 Convention vowed support for the report of the 
President's Committee on Civil Rights. Additionally, it adopted its own program, which, in a 
widely-disseminated brochure, was presented as TEN POINTS OF OUR PROGRAM. Two were 
directed at global matters-the U.N. and world food conservation; the other eight, domestic ones. 
The primary focus of the domestic points was in keeping with the thrust of the organization from 
its beginning: to influence the federal government to act so as to alleviate the segregation and 
discrimination African Americans routinely experienced. The importance of government to the 
NCNW program was critical. "We discovered that Government is our bureau drawer," ran a 
statement in the 1946 Convention findings. "We must reach in and get the things we want. We 
resolved to make it a habit to phone or write our local government agencies for help, and to 
write to our national government." At its annual meeting, the program routinely included 
workshops discussing housing, health, employment and other vital issues as they related to 
blacks. 58 

The NCNW utilized several methods to implement program objectives. Among them 



247 
were efforts to inform the public, especially through the work of local councils, so as to create 
public support for its view on a given issue; to stimulate local councils to develop programs 
meeting local needs, such as adult illiteracy, using how-to guidelines; to encourage a particular 
population to exercise options, especially voting; and to ally with other organizations to achieve 
a common goal, as in promoting child care centers. But, primarily, council efforts were directed 
towards petitioning federal officials for .action, whether through testimony at a Congressional 
hearing, letters, news releases, speeches, or conferences. 

As an illustration of petitioning government, the council dispatched from its 1946 annual 
convention a delegation of eight women, led by attorney Eunice Hunton Carter of New York, to 
lay its concerns before Joseph Martin of Massachusetts, the House Republican Leader. The 
delegates sought a National Health Act with proper safeguards to insure impartial 
administration; a Fair Employment Practices Committee bill "unhampered by local restrictions 
and qualifications"~Congress had failed to re-authorize the old FEPC; an Anti-Poll Tax Law, 
and equal educational facilities. The same convention authorized letters sent to the President 
and the Secretary of Labor commending them for eliminating segregation in the Washington 
office of the U.S. Employment Service, and requesting that this service remain in the 
Department of Labor, as opposed to its reputed transfer to the Social Security Board. The 
council believed that the Labor Department could establish policies which maintained that 
"workers should be placed according to their highest skill." Apparently, the Social Security 
Board would not. 59 

One of the council's TEN POINTS OF OUR PROGRAM was "youth conservation." 
This meant "increased participation of Negro youth in the normal life of the nation, full 



248 
integration of Negro women in the Women's Army Corps and general abolition of segregation 

and discrimination." Since the NCNW had been associated with the WAC from its 1942 

beginning and had long advocated desegregation, and since the WAC became a part of the 

regular army in 1948, this assertion probably was meant to convey NCNW's close identification 

with the corps and that it stood for desegregation of the entire military, a hot issue at the time. 

Going beyond this brochure's summary statement, by late 1948 youth conservation involved 

"organizing girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 21 years as 'Junior Councilers' 

for the purposes of aiding in the fight for the prevention of juvenile delinquency and for the 

training of young women for future community leadership." This program was something new, 

but by 1951, the NCNW Yearbook indicated eighteen groups of "Junior Councilers." 60 

Aside from "youth conservation," another program point, was advocacy of "Increased 

benefits under Social Security covering domestic workers and agricultural workers." From the 

beginning of the council, it recognized that most women it claimed to represent needed this. In 

1946, its position was as plain as ever: "Because of the majority of Negro women workers are 

household service and agricultural workers who do not receive the benefits of Social Security 

legislation (Unemployment Compensation and Federal Old Age and Survivors' Insurance), we 

will press for the inclusion of these workers in such legislation, and will encourage them to 

organize as have other workers." 61 

Improved health care was always a NCNW goal. According to its brochure, it wanted 

"Action for extension of public health services on local and national levels." Its 1948 "Findings 

and Recommendations" declared, "to help meet the increasing and often burdensome costs of 

medical care-especially among Negro people whose incomes are too low to assure a reserve to 



249 
cover unexpected illnesses and who do not have adequate health and medical facilities available 
to them including hospitals and trained personnel~the National Council of Negro Women 
wholeheartedly supports a national health program, the core of which is National Health 
Insurance." The next year, the NCNW reiterated its support for President Truman's National 
Health Program. Additionally, it decided to study health issues and to cooperate and coordinate 
efforts with "organizations sponsoring improved health for all people." 62 

While youth conservation, extension of Social Security benefits, and health care were 
items on the council's "TEN POINTS OF OUR PROGRAM," the top five points dealt with 
voting, housing, anti-lynching, education, and employment. These five advocacies are stated 
below in the order and phrasing appearing in the council brochure, with representative council 
action and commentary on them. While NCNW methods to achieve these points were important 
consciousness-raising endeavors, dramatic change came primarily when methods emanating 
from other sources directly engaged the black masses in the 1960's. Most of the council's views 
on the problems itemized below paralleled those of the NAACP and other black mainstream and 
male-dominated organizations. But without the council, women leaders throughout the country 
would not have been as alert and as mobilized in behalf of the stated objectives. 

/. Removal of all voting restrictions in all elections, including primaries. 

One impediment to voting that the NCNW actively tried to remove was the poll tax, for it 
mocked the concept of representative government. In 1940, when the National Committee to 
Abolish the Poll Tax was formed, Mary McLeod Bethune was among more than fifty personages 
sponsoring it, and her National Council joined in the struggle for poll tax relief. Like many 
other civil right measures proposed during Bethune' s time, the objective of the committee went 



250 
unrealized until the 1960's. In that decade, the 24 th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned 

a tax for voting in federal elections. Until then, the NCNW advocated that citizens in those 
Southern states requiring a poll tax pay it. Voting warranted that. 

Besides the poll tax, southern states used other stratagems to keep poor whites and 
African Americans from voting, although federal courts progressively struck some down. 
Nevertheless, wholesale black voting in some southern states failed to occur until after the 
Voting Rights Act of 1965. Nonetheless, in the post-war era the NCNW urged its Southern and 
Northern members to vote, if at all possible. At other times it told them to make wise voting 
choices. It never declared that one party was preferable to the other, for officially it was non- 
partisan and its members and constituents included Democrats and Republicans. "We insist 
upon the right to vote in every state, unrestricted by poll taxes, white primaries, or lily-white 
party conventions, the gerrymandering of districts, or any other device designated to disfranchise 
Negroes and other voters," read one NCNW statement on voting prior to the '44 Presidential 
Election. Under NAACP aegis, the National Council of Negro Women had joined twenty-five 
other aggregations— led by labor, fraternities and sororities, churches, and an assortment of 
others, including NCNW affiliate, the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses~to sign 
"A Declaration of Negro Voters," which included the above quote. Later, at its convention, the 
council called on members to make an all-out effort to register and vote in the impending 
election, regardless of party and distributed to them a pamphlet urging the same. Also, it 
advocated a federal ballot for soldiers. Two years later, it announced a little more. "Our 
obligation is two-fold: to vote at every opportunity; and to follow-through after elections, telling 
our elected officials, especially our Washington representatives, what our needs are." 



251 
Furthermore, as the 1948 Convention Findings reveal, the NCNW directed local affiliates to 
stimulate voting in their communities. 63 

In the 1940's, less that 13 percent of black women voted. Obviously, a part of the 
"removal of all voting restrictions," to which the NCNW aspired, involved accustoming them to 
vote, especially those who had relocated from the South. Black candidates, women candidates, 
and blacks on the campaign circuit helped to do that. No doubt this "accustoming process" 
started for some New Yorkers in 1944 when NCNW member Sara Pelham Speaks ran for a seat 
in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first black woman to do so. President Bethune "rose 
from a sick bed . . . long enough to write a hearty endorsement" for her candidacy. Bethune 
believed that through Speaks, the council had "taken a definite step forward in the affairs of our 
Government" and that "wider doors of opportunity may be opened to Negro women 
everywhere." When Speaks lost, the New York Amsterdam News went prophetic: "The old 
precedent has been broken and the way opened for a Congress woman from the ranks of Negro 
women. The future holds that." 64 

Two years later, perhaps Bethune thought of Speaks when, under the auspices of the Los 
Angles NCNW affiliate, she "thrilled a large and enthusiastic audience, most of whom were 
women, at People's Independent Church of Christ." Probably, the most "thrilling" moment 
came when the National Council President declared, "I am expecting to see some brown women 
like you walking into Congress some day. Why not?" Previously, she had announced, "We have 
always sent our men forward The time has come now when more women will come forward; 
the time is approaching when there will be women mayors, governors; when there will be more 
women on our Boards of Education We elect the men to various offices. We might just as well 



252 
elect ourselves." 

Bethune exhorted her listeners to vote emphatically. ""Realize what the franchise 
means. If every woman would register, would vote, we could send the right kind of Senators and 
Congresswomen to Washington-the right kind of men who would help work on the problems 
down there in Georgia, Florida and in the deep South." This NCNW Leader, gave these 
Californians also an urgent purpose for voting in the next election. "I hope, particularly, that the 
womanhood of California will put everything it has under heaven to keep Helen Gahagan 
Douglas in Congress," she said. Two years earlier, the glamorous Douglass had won election 
from the Fourteenth Congressional District, which had a 25 percent black population and 
embraced the core of downtown Los Angeles. As far as Bethune and Douglas' black 
constituency were concerned, she had proven to be "the right kind" in Congress. 65 

2. Enactment of legislation outlawing restrictive covenants and other devices which 
conspire to perpetuate discrimination and segregation in housing. 

On December 12, 1945, when Mary Bethune represented the National Council of Negro 
Women before a Congressional Committee on the Wagner-EUender-Taft general housing bill, 
among the things she pointed out were the enormous need for decent housing among rural 
Americans and African Americans, the necessity for anti-discrimination provisions, and the 
track records of two housing agencies. Bethune was gratified that the bill encompassed housing 
for rural Americans. "Decent homes for the tenants, the sharecroppers, the migrant farm 
laborers, and the poorer fanner will truly be a profitable investment in America's future," she 
asserted. She observed that considering the thousands of African American families that had 
migrated from the South during the war, and, as a group, were then living in "veritable slum 



253 
ghettos" from coast to coast, that the proposed housing bill was entirely "too timid for the 

courageous and pioneering spirit of America." She desired a measure that could do much more. 
Additionally, she wanted it to include "a sweeping clause which would require that wherever 
Federal funds, powers, or instruments are utilized to guarantee, aid, or subsidize slum clearance 
or housing development, the benefits of the bill be extended in accordance with need and 
economic qualifications and without regard to race, creed, color, religious or political 
affiliation." Bethune took a moment also to commend the Public Housing Administration, 
stating that it "has been a bright light in the whole dreary picture of housing available to Negroes 
during the past ten years. It stands in startling contrast," she declared, "with the irresponsible 
and vicious practices of the Federal Housing Administration [FHA], which has not only failed to 
contribute toward the solution of the housing problems that face Negroes, but has actually 
intensified these problems." For the diplomatic Bethune, that was strong language indeed. 
In 1947, the council had focused primarily on housing from the viewpoint of anti- 
discrimination, especially by banning restrictive covenants, which prevented owners of property 
from selling or renting to those thought undesirable, especially people of color. In May 1948, 
when the U.S. Supreme Count determined that these covenants were unenforceable in a court of 
law, the council still saw much to do in dealing with housing discrimination. "We realize that 
the task is not yet finished," it announced about five months after the decision. "We call upon 
persons of goodwill everywhere to work to create a public opinion which will not breed 
gentlemen's agreements but will create a climate in which all persons have equal access to the 
housing market and enjoy the privilege of living and moving freely throughout the community 
without restrictions based on race, creed, or color." 66 



254 

3. Enactment by Congress of an anti-lynching bill which provides heavy prison terms 

and fines for mobsters or conspiring state officers. 
"In the year 1947, lynching remains one of the most serious threats to the civil rights of 

Americans. It is still possible for a mob to abduct and murder a person in some sections of the 

country with almost certain assurance of escaping punishment for the crime," declared the 

President's Committee on Civil Rights in its influential report, "To Secure These Rights." "The 

communities in which lynchings occur tend to condone the crime. Punishment of lynchers is not 

accepted as the responsibility of state or local governments in the communities," the report 

maintained. "Frequently, state officials participate in the crime, actively or passively. Federal 

efforts to punish the crime are resisted." The report gave interesting specifics. 

In 1946 at least six persons in the United States were 
lynched by mobs. Three of them had not been charged, 
either by the police or anyone else, with an offense. Of the three 
that had been charged, one had been accused of stealing a 
saddle. (The real thieves were discovered after the lynching.) 
Another was said to have broken into a house. A third was 
charged with stabbing a man. All were Negroes. 

Since the 1920's the NAACP had endeavored to get Congress to pass an anti-lynching 

bill. It did not. When an anti-lynch proposal was introduced, Southerners filibustered it to 

death. Many, including the NCNW, wanted Congress to change its rules so as to avoid the 

filibuster, but to no avail. The NAACP continued to investigate lynchings and to urge the 

national government to act. Other than that, about all it and other allies could do, was to keep 

the issue before the public, for as the President's Committee reported, "Civil rights. . . . will 

never be adequately protected until the intelligent will of the American people approves and 

demands that protection." The NCNW continued to work with the NAACP on lynching and 



255 
other matters, as in December 1946. The next year, it reported on, and presumably participated 
in, a Washington rally "to dramatize the efforts to stop lynching." The hugely talented Paul 
Robeson, actor and singer, railed against the pro-lynching Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi 
and revved up the faithful to fight on. He sang three spirituals spontaneously and 
unaccompanied, and ended dramatically with the final speech from Shakespeare's Othello 67 
4. Enactment of a Federal aid to education bill with adequate safeguards prohibiting 

discrimination in administration and allocation of funds. 
Just as the NCNW's position on lynching was unchanged from the previous decade, it 
remained the same on federal aid to education too. In 1937, the organization had gone before a 
Congressional Committee asking for federal aid to education, as long as equitable benefits to 
African Americans were guaranteed. Without these guarantees, the NCNW didn't want the aid. 
On January 31, 1945, through President Mary McLeod Bethune, it testified before another 
Senate Committee urging the same, but adding that such aid benefitted the country because, as 
the war had highlighted, it would make more people eligible for military service and for jobs in 
industry. Four years later the organization vowed to "take vigorous action in support of Federal 
Aid to Education by informing the public of the pressing needs in education, of the effects of 
inadequate educational institutions and in standards of cooperation with educational 
organizations striving to secure better educational resources in all communities." 

In the postwar period in particular, the South altered some racist educational practices. 
But whatever it did resulted from the pressure exerted by federal courts or the fear of it. 
Consequently, it spent more in the late 1940's on the education of a black child, but it was only 
one-third as much as the white child. "With notable exceptions, the liberal and educated South 



256 
has not taken any leading role in Negro progress," scholar W.E.B. DuBois wrote in 1949, 
because "the progressive white South is not yet ready to attack race discrimination. ... It is not 
simply because they know that the unlettered crowd opposes this democracy: they themselves, as 
modern, educated men, oppose such a program. But they are not prepared to proclaim this 
reactionary belief," he concluded, "and prefer to base their opposition to civil rights on the right 
of states ..." While the "progressive white South" did not budge, national and world public 
opinion moved on to the position that equality demanded the abolition of separate schools. To 
an extent, this would come dramatically in the 1960's, as would federal aid to elementary and 
secondary schools. While the NCNW wanted desegregation, in the late '40's, it worked towards 
equitable federal assistance to public schools. 68 

5. Enactment of legislation to outlaw discrimination in employment because of race, 
creed, color or national origin, improved minimum wage and working standards, 
establishment of a workers ' educational bureau in the Federal Department of Labor. 

The Fair Employment Practices Committee, which African Americans had pressured the 
Roosevelt Administration to create in 1941, was the primary means through which the NCNW 
hoped to enhance the employment of African Americans. Since the committee was a temporary 
defense measure, the council had early become a staunch member of the National Committee for 
a Permanent FEPC, for which council member Anna A. Hedgeman was executive director. In 
late 1944, Bethune worked with a special committee on F.E.P.C., involving the White House and 
the Attorney General's Office, to insure that the fair employment program was not sabotaged. 
On July 8, 1945, she addressed a mass meeting on the Washington Monument Grounds in 
support of the FEPC, saying "We are not asking, but are demanding and requiring," Congress 



257 
refused to budge. 

In 1947, President Harry Truman made the revival of a FEPC a part of his legislative 
agenda to secure the rights of minorities. Two years later, an FEPC bill was still in Congress. 
On May 20, 1949, Mary Bethune testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor 
in behalf of this bill to prohibit discrimination in employment as one, she said, of nearly 15 
million African Americans who suffered from discrimination. "How long, in the name of 
American fair play," she asked rhetorically, "can we ignore these discriminations, particularly 
the denial of the right to work at one's highest capacity and capabilities?" The NCNW President 
met head-on the arguments against the bill. Some declared that prejudice cannot be legislated 
away. She agreed, arguing, "but one of the resulting effects of prejudice— discrimination 
can be outlawed; just as we outlaw the resulting effect of malice and hate and greed and 
jealousies. Laws against murder," sh6 stated, "prohibit the taking away of life. An FEPC [Fair 
Employment Practices Committee] law would prohibit the taking away of one's livelihood 
because of his race, creed, color, national origin or ancestry." Also, Bethune countered the 
argument that government has no right to tell an employer who to hire. She agreed with that too, 
explaining that the law would not "say who an employer must hire or who a union must accept. 
It merely states that neither employer nor union can base refusal to hire or to accept an otherwise 
qualified applicant because of his race, creed, color, national origin or ancestry." 

Bethune appealed to the evidence of recent history and the post-war world in behalf of a 
no-discrimination employment bill. During World War II, the percentage of African Americans 
in war industries rose from 3 percent in 1940 to 7.7 percent in '44 for various reasons. "But a 
large part of it," she insisted, "was due to the establishment and the efforts of the wartime FEPC. 



258 
. ." She believed that a bill was needed in 1949 not only because it was right, but because the 
world was watching--"the 60 to 70 percent of the world's people who are colored," she said. 
These were the people that the Communist propaganda machine targeted with the message that 
American democracy was a fantasy, something not implemented at home and, therefore, not to 
be implemented abroad, she averred. Unsurprisingly, she reiterated before the Committee strong 
reasons for a new FEPC, but prejudice and politics continued to rule the day, not morality nor 
logic. 

Six months later, the NCNW Conference resolutions framed the issue of fair employment 
practices in terms of women's lack of opportunity in the work force. The NCNW pledged to 
continue publicizing the facts of discrimination and to keep working for "legislation establishing 
equal pay for equal work." It would advocate the entry of more professional women in public 
service and private industry, despite the obstacles that had to be overcome. Also, it endorsed the 
work of the Jeanes Fund Program and the federal government for the improvement of 
"conditions of work, living, and agricultural development in rural areas designed to improve 
general conditions of rural women and their families." 69 

Notes 

1. Robert L. Daniel, American Women in the 20"' Century: " The Festival of Life San 
Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987), 212-213. 

2. Ibid., 141-145; Marjorie McKenzie [Lawson], "Pursuit of Democracy [column], 
Pittsburgh Courier, October 24, 1944, 7; TELEFACT [Newsletter of the NCNW], October- 
November 1944, 3. 

3. Interview with Estelle Massy Riddle, June 14, 1946, Radio Station WMCA, NCNW 
Vertical File, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York; 1946 Findings. 

4. Bethune to Council Member, January 28, 1947, Nannie Helen Burroughs Papers, 



259 

Number 3, Library of Congress; Alice Dunnigan to Claude A. Barnett, February 8, 1947, Claude 
A. Barnett Papers, Bethune File, Chicago Historical Society; "Bethune's Position Called 
Inconsistent," Alabama Tribune [Montgomery], February 14, 1947, 4; "Katherine Shryer, New 
Council Sec'y," The Chronicle [Detroit], September 9, 1946, Tuskegee Institute Newspaper 
Clippings; Joyce Ann Hanson, "The Ties that Bind: Mary McLeod Bethune and the Political 
Mobilization of Women," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Connecticut, 1997), 195-197. 

5. Bethune, Progress Report, November 15, 1947-April 15, 1948, April 17, 1948, 
NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 3, Folder 37; Bethune, Annual Report of the NCNW President, 
October 29, 1945, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 2, Folder 24. 

6. Bethune, "Stepping Aside ... at Seventy- four," October 1949, in Mary McLeod 
Bethune: Building a Better World, Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith 
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 192-193. 

7. NCNW 1940 Minutes, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 1, Folder 7; Findings of the 
NCNW in Meeting, Thursday, October 25, 1940, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 1, Series 8. 

8. Bethune quoted from the Pittsburgh Courier, February 1, 1941, 9. 

9. NCNW Minutes, Board of Directors Meeting, December 18, 1943, NCNW Papers, 
Series 3, Box 1, Folder 1. 

10. Susan McElrath, Notes on Tour of Council House with Jeanetta V/elch Brown, July 
10, 1992, Bethune Council House, Office of the Cultural Resource Specialist; John Salmond, A 
Southern Rebel: The Life and Times of Aubrey Willis Williams, 1890-1965 (Chapel Hill: 
University of North Carolina Press, 1983), 197. 

1 1 . Historic American Buildings Survey, 1318 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, 
DC, FLABS NO. DC-775, 6; McElrath, on Tour with J.W. Brown. 

12. NCNW Minutes, Directors Meeting, December 18, 1943; Aframerican Woman 's 
Journal, (Spring 1944), 3. This first NCNW group photo in Council House appears again in 
Women United: Souvenir Year Book, ed., Ruth Caston Mueller (NCNW: 1951), 24; Bethune, 
diary entry for November 21, 1950, BF, Part 1, Reel 5. 

13. Building Survey, 9. 

14. McElrath, on Tour with J.W. Brown. 

15. Building Survey, 14; Bethune to J.W. Brown, August 23, 1944, NCNW Papers, 
Series 5, Box 5, Folder 93; for a dedication photograph, see, for example, a back view of 
Bethune speaking and a front view of the audience, NCNW Papers, Series 14, Box 5, Folder 12. 



260 

16. Printed Program, Dedication of Council House, October 15, 1944, BF, Part 1, Reel 
15; "The Final Chapter [in the Workshop]: Dedication of National Headquaners"Aframerican 
Woman 's Journal, (1944 Convention Issue), 6. 

17. Bethune to T.A. Adams, October 17, 1944, NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 1, Folder 4. 

1 8. NCNW 1945-1946 Activities Calender of Events, NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 1, 
Folder 1 1 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation Cross Reference File on Mary McLeod Bethune; 
TELEFACT, January 1947, 2; Washington Afro-American, November 10, 1945, 14. 

19. NCNW 1945-1946 Activities Calender of Events; Washington Afro-American, 
January 20, 1945, 9; NCNW House Committee Annual Report, November 1949, BCH, Series 4, 
Box 7, Folder 47. 

20. NCNW 12 th Annual Convention Program, November 10-14, 1947, NCNW Papers, 
Series 2, Box 3, Folder 35; NCNW 1949 House Committee Report. 

21. Estelle Massy Riddle [Osborne] Interview, June 14, 1946; NCNW 1949 House 
Committee Report. 

22. Report of the National Library and Museum Committee, [1949], NCNW Papers, 
Series 2, Box 3, Folder 42; Findings of the NCNW 1946 Convention, November 13-16, 1946, 
NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 2, Folder 28. 

23. "Mrs. Bethune Declares Council Meet Best Yet," Atlanta Daily World, November 8, 
1944, Tuskegee Institute Newspapers Clippings. 

24. NCNW 1949 House Committee Report. 

25. Bethune, Annual Report of the President and Executive Secretary, 1943-1944, 
October 1944, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 2, Folder 22; Bethune, Memorandum to Mrs. 
Harold V. Milligan, 1946, in Bethune: Building a Better World, ed. McCluskey and Smith, 183. 

26. Virginia F. Durr Papers, Awards , 1946-83, LPR, 28, Container 4, Folder 5, Alabama 
Department of Archives and History, Montgomery. 

27. NCNW News Release About Women Honored on Sunday June 18, 1948, NCNW 
Papers, Series 5, Box 16, Folder 12; articles in the Aframerican Woman 's Journal: "Awards to 
Twelve Outstanding Women of 1946," (March 1946), 5, "Honorees," (Summer-Fall, 1947), 6-8; 
"Honorees 1949," Women United (August 1949), 20-21. 

28. Invitation to participate in honoring outstanding women on February 10, 1945, 
NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 16, Folder 6. 



261 

29. Pearl B. Cox, "You Don't Know Your Washington . . .Unless You've Met Dr. Mary 
McLeod Bethune, Black and White, 7 (May 1945), 13-14; Aframerican Woman 's Journal, 
March 1945, 16-17; Mable Alston, "500 Attend Reception Given for National Council 
Honorees," Washington Afro- American, February 17, 1945, 11; "Mrs. Bethune Names Leading 
Women of Year," Chicago Defender, [undated], Bethune Vertical File, Moorland-Spingarn 
Research Center. 

30. First NCNW Group Photo in Council House, in Women United: Souvenir Year Book, 
ed., Ruth Caston Mueller (NCNW: 195 1), 24. 

31. Photo of Bethune in the Council House Reception Room, Aframerican Woman 's 
Journal, (March 1945), 17. 

32. Ellen M. Plante, The Victorian Home: The Grandeur and Comfort of the Victorian 
Era in Households Past and Present (Philadelphia: Courage Books, 1995), 20-51 ("The Proper 
Parlor"); Building Survey, 14; Bethune to T.A. Adams, November 15, 1944. 

33. Dan Williams,"Portrait of Mary Bethune: The Cotton-Picker Still Sings," 
Washington Post, June 2, 1946, Tuskegee Institute Newspaper Clippings. 

34. Photo accompanying "My Secret Talks with FDR," Ebony, 4 (March 1949), 51. 

35. Photo Number 952, NCNW Papers, Series 14, Box 3. 

36. Cover, Aframerican Woman's Journal, (Winter 1947-1948), NCNW Papers. 

37. Genevieve Forbes Herrick, "Loved, Feared, and Followed," Collier 's, September 23, 
1950, Bethune File, FDR Memorial Foundation, FDR Library, Hyde Park, New York; Bethune' s 
1950 Diary, BF, Part 1, Reel 5. 

38. Photo accompanying "Women Leaders," Ebony, 4 (July 1949), 22; Inventory of 
Artifacts, Cultural Historian's Office, Bethune Council House. 

39. Ebony, "Women Leaders," 22. 

40. Photograph accompanying Monique Greenwood, "Mary McLeod Bethune Slept 
Here," Essence (February 1998), 149, Bethune Vertical File, Bethune Council House. 

41. Minutes of NCNW Conference, March 24, 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, 
[Probably under social], FDR Library.) Be to Sadie Alexander, February 24, 1948, NCNW 
Papers, Series 5, Box 2, Folder 8;Bethune to Sue B. Thurman, March 23, 1948, BF, Part 1, Reel 
14; Bethune to Elizabeth Eastman, Oct. 25, 1948, BF, Part 2, Reel 4. 



262 

42. October 1 1, 1948 Minutes of Regional Meeting, at YMCA in New York. NCNW 
Papers, Series 2, Box 3, Folder 41-Bethune talked of In Aframerican Woman 's Journal (1948- 
1949), 26. Bethune discussed her "Dream House" headquarters at a "Women United" Luncheon 
in St. Louis, Mo. 

43. Steven M. Kay (Alabama Historical Commission's Cultural Resources Coordinator) 
to the Author, November 8, 1988. Kay's assessment was based upon a photograph of the 
building supplied by the Author. Be to Mary Waring ; 

44. Bethune, "Stepping Aside ... at Seventy-four.". 

45. Frances Diehl to Bethune, undated, NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 24, Folder 365; 
Frances Diehl to Bethune, July 15, 1947, NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 24, Folder 367; Chapter 
Reports, [1947-48], Series 2, Box 3, Folder 41; NCNW Papers, Sue Bailey Thurman, "Behind 
the Scenes at San Francisco," Aframerican Woman 's Journal, (June 1945), 4-5. 

46. Minutes, NCNW Annual Workshop, October 13, 1944, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 
2, Folder 22; "Nations' Spokesmen Stand United Against Prejudice," Washington Afro- 
American, October 21, 1944, 14; "The Women's Council," Memphis World, October 20, 1944, 
Tuskegee Institute Newspaper Clippings; Marjorie Lawson, "In Pursuit of Democracy," 
Pittsburgh Courier, October 24, 1944; Bethune to T.A. Adams, October 17, 1944. 

47. Lem Graves Jr., "NCNW Program Boosts International Relations," Pittsburgh 
Courier, November 22, 1947, Mary McLeod Bethune Vertical File, Clark- Atlanta University; 
"Embassies Receive NCNW Delegates," Birmingham World, December 2, 1949, 5. 

48. "Mrs. Bethune Added to Frisco Advisors," Chicago Defender, April 28, 1945, Mary 
McLeod Bethune Vertical File, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. 

49. Bethune, Memorandum to Mrs. Harold V. Milligan, the NCNW Report, 1943-1946, 
in Bethune: Building a Better World, ed., McCluskey and Smith, 183; Annual Report of the 
NCNW President, 1944-1945, October 29, 1945, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 2, Folder 24; 
"Mrs. Bethune Reports on Security Conference, Afro-American [Baltimore], May 26, 1945, 13. 

50. Bethune to Jeanetta W. Brown, May 17, 1945, BF; Bethune to Jeanetta W. Brown, 
May 4, 1945, NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 5, Folder 93; Bethune, NCNW Annual Report of the 
President, 1944-1945; Bethune quoted in the Chicago Defender, May 12, 1945, Bethune Vertical 
File, Clark-Atlanta University. 

5 1 . Bethune, "San Francisco Conference," in Building a Better World, ed. McCluskey 
and Smith, 251. 

52. Findings of the [NCNW] Convention, November 1946. Quote from Toki Schalk, 



263 

"Toki Types [column], Pittsburgh Courier, April 21, 1945, 10; "At NCNW 
Headquarters, "Aframerican Woman 's Journal, (June 1945), 5. 

53. George V. Allen [Assistant Secretary of State] to Bethune, NCNW Papers, Series 5, 
Box 1, Folder 10; Bethune to Dr. Hall, September 26, 1949, BF, Part 2, Reel 1; Bethune, 
Progress Report, November 15, 1947-April 15, 1948, April 17, 1948, NCNW Papers, Series 2, 
Box 3, Folder 37. 

54. Eunice H. Carter, "Following the U.N." in Women United, Souvenir Year Book, ed. 
Ruth Caston Mueller, 60-61. 

55. Edith Sampson, NCNW Annual Report of the Chairman of the Executive 
Committee, [March 1949] NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 4, Folder 47; Edith Sampson, "We Saw 
the World," in Women United, Souvenir Year Book, ed. Ruth Caston Mueller, 54-55; Bethune to 
Era Bell Thompson, December 6, 1950, BF, Part 3, Reel 33. 

56. Chester S. Williams to Bethune, October 6, 1949, BF, Part 2, Reel 12. 

57. Chester S. Williams to Bethune, August 12, 1949, Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, 1945- 
1952, Number 3259, FDR Library. 

58. Resolutions of the NCNW 1947 Convention, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 2, Folder 
33; NCNW Brochure [1948], National Council of Negro Women Vertical File, Alabama State 
University Learning Center, Special Collections; NCNW Resolutions Passed at the 1 1 * Annual 
Convention, November 11-15, 1946, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 2, Folder 28. 

59. Bessie H. Trice, "Women Prepare to Fight for Liberal Legislation," Pittsburgh 
Courier, [1946], 8, BF; NCNW Resolutions, 1946. 

60. NCNW Findings and Recommendations of the Thirteenth Annual Convention, 
October 10-13, 1948, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 3, Folder 41; NCNW Souvenir Year Book, 
106-107. 

61. NCNW Resolutions, 1946. 

62. NCNW Findings, October 10-13, 1948; NCNW Reports of the Resolution 
Committee, Adopted November 18, 1949. 

63. "A Declaration of Negro Voters," June 17, 1944, NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 22, 
Folder 336. "The Women's Council," Memphis World, October 20, 1944, Tuskegee Institute 
Newspaper Clippings; NCNW Unidentified Summary Report for 1943-1944, NCNW Papers, 
Series 5, Box 22, folder 331; NCNW 1946 Convention Findings; NCNW 1948 Convention 
Findings. 



264 

64. Daniel, American Women in the 20 th Century, 208; "Year 1944 Showed Gains Among 
Women With Many Challenges for the Year Ahead," New York Amsterdam News, December 30, 
1944, Tuskegee Newspaper Clippings; "Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune, Nationally Known Leader, 
Endorses Sara Speaks for Congress," Unidentified newspaper clipping, BF. 

65. LeRoy S. Hart, "Dr Bethune Urges Women to Stress Government Activity," Los 
Angeles Sentinel, July 18, 1946, Scrapbook, BF; Ingrid Winther Scobie, "Helen Gahagan 
Douglas," in Portraits of American Women: From Settlement to the Present, ed., G.J. Barker- 
Benfield and Catherine Clinton (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991), 561-579. 

66. Bethune, Statement before the Senate Banking and Currency Committee on S. 1592, 
in Bethune: Building a Better World, McCluskey and Smith, 178-182; NCNW 1948 Convention 
Findings. 

67. President's Committee on Civil Rights, "To Secure These Rights," 1947, in The 
Black American: A Documentary History, ed., Leslie H. Fishel, Jr. and Benjamin Quarles (New 
York: William Morrow & Co., 1970), 479, 482-483; TELEFACT, January 1947, 2. 

68. "Our President Urges Federal Aid to Education," Aframerican Woman 's Journal, 
(March 1945), 5; NCNW 1949 Convention Findings; W.E.B. DuBois, "Progress Report on 
Negro America," Negro Digest VII (May 1949), 19-26. 

69. TELEFACT, December 1944, 4; FBI Cross Reference File on Mary McLeod 
Bethune; Bethune, Statement of Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune Before the Committee on 
Education and Labor of the House of Representatives, May 20, 1949, in support of Legislation to 
Prohibit Discrimination in Employment Because of Race, Color, Religion, National Origin or 
Ancestry, BF; NCNW Reports of Resolution Committee, November 18, 1949. 




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Chapter 5 
Commendations and Moving On 

As the 1940's turned into the 1950's and that decade unfolded, positive and negative 
agitation rocked the world. The ferment within many colonial countries for self-governance 
grew ever stronger. The Cold War turned hot in the "Korean Conflict." On the home front in 
1952, with the country awash in conservatism, the Republican standard-bearers Dwight D. 
Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon swept into office. White women moved forward with them. 
The new president appointed career diplomat Frances E. Willis as ambassador to Switzerland 
and Oveta Culp Hobby as Secretary of the newly created Department of Health, Education, and 
Welfare. By January 5, 1955, a record eighteen women had been elected to Congress, two to the 
Senate. It would take thirteen years before even one African American woman would be elected 
to the House of Representatives; thirty-seven, before one would reach the Senate. In the early 
1950 ! s, ebony women had to rely on assistant and consultant appointments for their government 
visibility. In the place of Democrat Anna Arnold Hedgeman, assistant to the director of the 
Federal Security Administration, the Republicans placed Jane Spaulding in its much coveted 
equivalency: assistant to the new HEW Secretary; and Roberta Church of Memphis, to the 
minority consultant spot in the Labor Department's Bureau of Employment Security, previously 
held by another sister of color, Thomasina Johnson-Norford. 

While most black women continued their historical dual focus on home and work, 
mainstream women experienced a new version of the nineteenth century "Cult of True 



268 
Womanhood" in the form of the "feminine mystique," which told young wives to make their 
husbands and children the center of their lives. Even so, with little debate, white women 
increasingly worked outside the home. Generally, they were able to obtain good paying jobs, 
especially when compared to opportunities for women of color, who-mostly blocked from even 
factory work—increasingly accepted domestic employment from white women, who were both in 
and out of the labor force. ' 

On the racial front per se, the news was good and bad. The great migration of African 
Americans out of the deep South into the major cities of the North and West generally enhanced 
their options for a better life. Moreover, the federal judiciary's aggressive drive to extend civil 
rights in education culminated in the unanimous 1954 Supreme Court Brown versus Board of 
Education Decision, which reversed more than a half century of legally-sanctioned segregation 
based on race. But in contrast to President Harry Truman, President Eisenhower tended to 
ignore civil rights for 10 percent of Americans, or about 15 million people. Disapproving of the 
Brown decision, he did little to enforce it. In the "Declaration of Constitutional Principles," 
nearly the whole southern contingent in Congress denounced the decision and vowed to resist its 
implementation. Throughout the South, White Citizens' Councils mushroomed behind white 
privilege and its converse, "keeping the nigger down," "even though the black unemployment 
rate was twice that of whites, and the black poverty rate was a staggering 50 percent compared 
to 20 and 25 percent for whites." In 1955, the median black family income was $2,549; the 
medium white family income, $4,605. In that same year, Mississippi whites lynched Reverend 
George W. Lee for leading a voter registration drive, and two other blacks for unrelated reasons. 
The state reduced its number of registered black voters from 22,000 to 8,000. 2 



269 
While Mary McLeod Bethune, age 74, still presided over the National Council of Negro 
Women in '49, Harry Truman occupied the U.S. presidency, and from its bully pulpit continued 
to encourage her and the NCNW in their common goals. In November of that year, however, 
Bethune would relinquish the council gavel, after directing the organization for fourteen years. 
The year marked a divide for her. Also, 1949 constituted a watershed for the National Council. 
Under new leadership the organization would advance after Bethune' s retirement, by creating, 
for example, eight new chapters in four years. The council's roots had "gone too deeply down to 
be uprooted by the storms of handicap," just as Bethune prophesied. Besides, the Founder- 
President had mentored well younger women. In the 1950's, Harlem's Congressman Adam 
Clayton Powell declared, "There are hundreds of women who are now considered effective 
leaders who were influenced and encouraged by Mrs. Bethune. I might say they were tutored by 
her." He named as prime examples Edith Sampson, Dorothy Ferebee, Vivian Mason, Arenia 
Mai lory, and Marjorie Stewart Joyner. 3 

Two in that group were Bethune's successors to the NCNW presidency. They were well- 
educated, experienced, cultured, and capable. As most leaders in the organization, both 
physician Dorothy B. Ferebee and administrator Vivian C. Mason were younger than Bethune, 
which their much greater energy demonstrated. Both were close to her personally, with Ferebee 
attending Bethune as her Washington physician. Besides, both could rely on Bethune's good 
name to booster their work, while at the same time, make their own decisions, such as 
incorporating into the organization's priorities their areas of expertise and selecting executive 
directors of their choice. 

Yet, regardless of the good leadership of Mary Bethune, Dorothy Ferebee, and Vivian 



270 
Mason, the council still suffered from the absence of a tax-exempt status. Consequently, it could 
not attract big money in the form of foundation grants and government contracts. Certainly, the 
organization tried for years to win a tax-exempt status. But the Internal Revenue Service 
rejected application after application, even though the council claimed to be non-political and its 
manual read, "Participation in partisan politics on a national or local level is contrary to the 
policy of the organization." Tax-exemption would come only after nine years into the 
administration of the council's fourth president, with the organization having revised its Articles 
of Incorporation and expanded its educational and charitable endeavors. Therefore, in 1949 as 
previously and throughout the tenures of Mason and Ferebee, the NCNW would remain 
underfinanced. This caused one journalist to remark, "Compared with other national women's 
groups, such as one which has a staff of 70 persons and an annual budget of $125,000, its 
persistence and the devotion of its active membership seem rather remarkable." 4 Indeed it does. 
This division of the Historic Resource Study highlights the culmination of Bethune's NCNW 
presidential tenure, particularly at the '49 convention; surveys the organization from 1950 to 
1955, the period during which Bethune still factored personally into most of its affairs; and 
offers an assessment of the council's significance from 1935 to 1955. 

A Bethune Triumph 

Mary McLeod Bethune never knew a year like 1949. It really got underway when she 
attended the inauguration of U. S. President Harry Truman, who, contrary to pre-election polls, 
had triumphed over New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. "The Inauguration was historical; 
it was prophetic; it was unparalleled," Bethune rhapsodized to a friend. "I think the rays of 



271 
democracy are beginning really to break through." The unprecedented participation of African 
Americans in the Inaugural merited such a comment. 5 The next month, Bethune attended the 
NCNW-sponsored concert at New York's Carnegie Hall featuring singer Carol Brice, backed by 
a group of international singers. The NCNW Chief spoke to the small audience there, probably 
thinking that should her organization sponsor another such gathering, the featured soloist would 
not have laryngitis and many more people would buy tickets. 6 Later in the month, Rollins 
College in Winter Park, Florida, near Orlando, having been won over by its president, Hamilton 
Holt, conferred upon Bethune a doctorate. While she had a string of them already, this one 
made her the first African American to receive an honorary degree from a Southern white 
institution. In March, this busy woman flew to Los Angeles, only to be surprised on national 
television by the "This Is Your Life" program, which had brought in her son and most devoted 
friends to honor her. Four were former students of her Daytona girls' school: Arabella 
Denniston, Charlotte Ford Clark, Sadie Franklin, and Lucy Miller Mitchell. 7 Bethune went to 
Capital Hill a couple of times in '49 to testify before Congressional Committees regarding 
pending legislation dealing with employment and a food additive. 

Bethune' s college threw a gala to celebrate her seventy-fourth birthday and with the 
consent of its Board of Trustees, later in the year Bethune occupied the pivotal position in a 
totally upscale college endowment campaign directed from New York's Madison Avenue. 8 
From July 12 th to the 27 th she saw Haiti as the guest of President Dumarsais Estime's government 
and received its highest tribute-the first ever bestowed upon a woman-the Order of Honor and 
Merit. "The trip and the visit to Haiti," she exclaimed to a friend, was the most thrilling 
experience of my whole life. . . the best part is that it [Haiti] is ruled by black people." 9 



272 
Bethune presided over the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History at its annual 

meeting in New York , a post that she had occupied since '36. 

And, Mary McLeod Bethune continued to reign over the NCNW. In January she 

conveyed to her friend Eleanor Roosevelt that she would retire in November, noting "I am trying 

to make it [the council] very solid and sound before turning it over to the women." She added, 

"It's influence is expanding every day. Our contacts are broadening and we are being called 

upon for sound judgment and leadership in a marvelous way." 10 To undergird its sagging 

finances, Bethune starting a high-powered fund-raising drive, headquartered in New York at 516 

Fifth Avenue, Suite 408, and assigned Arabella Denniston to that location. Bethune informed 

her journalist intimate, Constance Daniel, "We want 500,000 women of all colors and creeds at 

$2.00 and $3.00 per woman per year to help us to put in action the program of civil and human 

rights." This "Membership Enlistment Campaign" didn't come close to its goal, just as 

Bethune' s fund-raising for her college would not. n At this stage in her life Bethune couldn't 

parlay her tremendous personal popularity into big bucks for her most cherished institutions. 

But about her popularity, no doubt existed, as the NCNW's '49 Convention demonstrated. With 

the theme "Women United - Gateway to Democracy," the NCNW annual meeting that year 

boasted arresting features; namely, International Night, the presidential election, and the great 

Bethune banquet. 

International Night 12 

In some ways, the NCNW International Night on Tuesday, November 15, 1949, appeared 

similar to those of the recent past. The Labor Department Auditorium, with "its green and gold 

interior decorations, soft carpets, rich furniture and drapes" was the venue for the affair, which 



273 
began at 8:00 p.m. with the United States Navy Ensemble playing. Looking "queenly in her 
evening gown of black velvet with white orchids and halo of white hair," Mary McLeod Bethune 
presided. Although intimates declared her ill, nevertheless, she was "her charming, effusive 
self." Only a series of coughing spells hinted that something might be wrong. Many special 
guests attended, including representatives from the State Department, United Nations, National 
Citizens Committee for U. N. DAY, and more than thirty embassies and legations in 
Washington. Most foreign diplomats hailed from Europe or English-speaking countries, and 
then the Americas. But attending International Night also were representatives from China, 
Ethiopia, Iran, Israel, Liberia, and Syria. Most were introduced. 

Bethune had planned the "International Night" of her dreams. Naturally, NCNW leaders 
were presented there. Phelps Stokes Fund Director Charming H. Tobias and Bethune 's 
Washington pastor Robert Williams of Asbury Methodist Church offered prayers. The NCNW's 
own gifted Ethel Ramos Harris and Muriel Rahn rendered musical selections. Well-known 
internationalists Ralph Bunche of the United Nations and India's Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit brought 
greetings. "Echoes from Goodwill Ambassadors around the World," entailed statements from 
six women, beginning with Mrs. Eunice H. Carter, NCNW's Official Observer to the United 
Nations, and ending with Mrs. Edith Sampson, the NCNW representative to the World Town 
Hall Seminar and the seminar president. Speaking between them were Mrs. Oswald B. Lord, 
chair of the U.S. Committee for the U.N. International Children's Emergency Fund; Mrs. J. Blair 
Buck, President of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, Miss Anna Lord Strauss, president 
of the League of Women Voters, and Dr. Althea Hottel, president of the American Association 
of University Women. 



274 
In "Observance of the Fourth Anniversary of the United Nations," International Night 

'49, was like none other because the U.S. President spoke. An overflow crowd turned out to hear 
him. "Scores of detectives and uniformed police, both white and colored, swarmed around the 
building long before he appeared at the side entrance about 8:40 p.m." The motion picture 
cameras began rolling, bulbs flashed, and the spotlight went to the stage. Mrs. W.A. Scott of the 
Atlanta World confessed, "It was a thrill to see a PRESIDENT make his entrance-to say the 
least." Few African Americans had seen a U.S. President at one of their functions. Franklin 
Roosevelt wouldn't attend Bethune's government-sponsored national conferences in the late 
'30's, despite her begging and pleading. Just before Harry S. Truman spoke, Congressman 
William L. Dawson of Chicago said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the President of 
the United States." 

Truman addressed a most receptive audience. Managing to connect the history of the 
United States from thirteen colonies and sovereign states to a people united in one sovereign 
nation, he talked optimistically about the evening's theme, the United Nations and its place in 
the world. He observed that just as the U.S. constitution provides for a U.S. territory to enter the 
union as a state equal to any other, the United Nations was following that same principle in 
dealing with former colonial possessions through its trusteeship. Truman registered delight with 
the presence of U.N. Director of Trusteeship, Dr. Ralph Bunche, and the ambassador to the U.S. 
from a country recently emancipated from colonialism, Madame Pandit of India. Alluding to the 
U.N.'s "Declaration of Human Rights," the President stated that all present "have a deep interest 
in a great enterprise-the extension of freedom and opportunity to all our citizens without racial 
or religious discrimination. . . . We are going to continue to advance in our program of bringing 



275 
equal rights and equal opportunities to all citizens. In that great cause there is no retreat and no 

retirement. . ." 

Also, President Truman praised Bethune, remembering her work with Bethune-Cookman 
College, the National Youth Administration, and as a civic leader. "She has been in the 
forefront of those who worked for better housing and for larger employment opportunities 
through improved training and through the extension of fair employment practices," he 
announced. Speaking directly to her, the President declared, "Mrs. Bethune, as you retire from 
the presidency of this organization, I join with your members in thanking you for your 
leadership, which will forever be an inspiration to those who seek to carry forward the noble 
purposes to which your life has been devoted." 13 

After his address, Truman remained for the next portion of the program, the 
commendations. The sixteen NCNW leading lights who narrated reasons for presenting 
outstanding citizenship awards to recipients were Alice P. Allen of Birmingham; Elsie Austin, 
Marion Elliott, Venice Spraggs, and E. Buelah Winston, Washington; Mattie Coasey, Baltimore; 
Eleanor Curtis Dailey and Georgia Jones Ellis, Chicago; Daisy George and Dorothy Height, New 
York; Mabel Hawk, Atlanta; Olivia Henry and Ruth Scott, Philadelphia; Daisy Lampkin, 
Pittsburgh; Arenia Mallory, Lexington, Mississippi; and Sue Bailey Thurman, San Francisco. 
Obviously, there were sixteen award recipients. One stood out because it was an organization, 
not an individual: the American Association of University Women, which on June 23rd had 
voted overwhelmingly to open the organization to all qualified college graduates. Prompting its 
action was the refusal of the Washington, D.C. chapter to readmit the venerable Mary Church 
Terrell to membership essentially because of race. Finally, after a three-year struggle, the 



276 
Association expelled that chapter and established a new one in the nation's capital without race 

as a criterion for membership. AAUW president Althea Hottel accepted the citation for her 
group. 

Whereas one female organization garnered an award, three individual women received 
the same honor. Perhaps the number was small because the National Council of Negro Women 
had handed out an average of fourteen awards to women in five years. Those favored on 
International Night were Mary Church Terrell, Edith Sampson, and Madame Vijaya Pandit. 
Interestingly, these three were women of the "darker races." If only Margaret Murray 
Washington had lived to witness the evening's program, Bethune may have thought. Twenty- 
seven years earlier, Washington had organized the International Council of Women of the 
Darker Races. By the time it had ceased to exist in 1940, the NCNW had appropriated its 
calling card: promoting greater knowledge of and contact with non- white women in various 
countries. 14 

While recognizing only three individual women, the NCNW singled out a dozen men. 
Bethune had worked closely with most and her relationship with all was one of mutual 
admiration. They were her "Men of Valour." Bethune's connections to four award recipients 
extended back to operating her Daytona school; namely, the Revered Howard Thurman, 
Methodist Bishop Robert E. Jones, Tuskegee Institute President Frederick D. Patterson, and Dr. 
Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. 
Bethune knew the other men from dealing with them primarily in Washington. Among those 
who had lived or were living in the nation's capital were three identified with Howard 
University. Dr. Ralph Bunche and Judge William Hastie had been professors there and 



277 
Mordecai Johnson was still Howard's president. Honorees from government were Aubrey 
Williams, Bethune's former boss in NYA and now a magazine publisher; and Oscar Chapman, 
Secretary of the Interior-Designate, who had worked a long time in the Interior Department. 
Bethune's other heroes were Charming H. Tobias, director of the Phelps Stokes Fund; George 
Denny, moderator of the American Town Hall Meetings of the Air; and Walter White, executive 
secretary of the NAACP. All were truly outstanding citizens. President Truman congratulated 
each. 

Interestingly, among the nine black men honored, several were "negotiators and 
architects of the Negro's future in America!" In 1947, Survey Graphic's photographic "Pioneers 
in the Struggle Against Segregation" featured three: William H. Hastie, Channing Tobias and 
Walter White. The next year, Roi Ottley in "The Big Ten Who Run Negro America" proposed 
four: Tobias, White, Mordecai Johnson and Frederick D. Patterson. Both sources included 
Mary McLeod Bethune also. According to Ottley, his "Big Ten" had demonstrated consistency 
and astuteness" on behalf of African Americans. "Their daily activities have borne directly upon 
the affairs of the race, often with hardship to themselves." Ottley also maintained, "By the sheer 
force of their personalities they have made the mass of both white and blacks feel the urgency of 
their actions and the effects of their efforts. . . . They have demonstrated ability to lift themselves 
above their jobs, project their own personalities and have it felt." 15 

Electing a New President 16 
While International Night on Tuesday had been a public relations extravaganza, the 
NCNW turned inward on Friday to elect a new president. Given the way it turned out, journalist- 



278 
attorney- council member Marjorie McKenzie [Lawson] concluded, "the Council wasn't ready 

for the emotional catharsis of choosing a new leader." The general consensus was that "Mrs. 
Bethune has filled a niche to which no other person can succeed." One measure of the great job 
that she had done was the excitement the imminent election generated, although given the few 
established showcases for civic black women, the NCNW presidency was bound to be hotly 
contested anyway. Several well-qualified women wanted the unsalaried post despite the 
organization's $9,000 deficit and projected $53,000 budget, with funds to meet it problematic. 
Suited for the NCNW presidency, according to the black press, were Sadie T. Alexander, 1 898- 
1989; Eunice Hunton Carter, 1899-1970; Dorothy Ferebee, 1890-1980; Anna Arnold Hedgeman, 
1899-1990; Arenia C. Mallory, 1904-1977; Vivian Carter Mason, 1900-1982; Estelle Massy 
Osborne, 1901-1981; and Edith S. Sampson, 1901-1979. A cynic asserted that the presidency 
was all about prestige, ignoring the great good that could be effected from it. The election 
revealed that in keeping the NCNW together, Bethune had indeed accomplished a feat. She had 
kept strong leaders working together who were sometimes at cross purposes with each other. 

During this election a few of these powerful personalities came forward backed and 
opposed by other powerful women. Having less voting clout than delegates of local councils and 
national affiliates, individual life members doted on Chicago attorney Edith Sampson. While 
the Washington Afro-American dissented, most thought she held the edge. But a "rampaging 
out-to-get Edith faction" existed. Some unidentified lady said that she would "see Sampson in 
hell first" [before she became the NCNW president]. Reputedly, New Yorkers threatened a 
pennanent break with the council if Sampson were elected. This was plausible. Since they were 
the ones who had primarily voted the council into existence in 1935 and had been leading 



279 
supporters ever since, they felt a sense of proprietorship. Moreover, at the Executive Board 
meeting held on the same day as International Night with President Truman, New Yorker Eunice 
H. Carter vented her displeasure at the decision Bethune, assisted by Daisy Lampkin, made in 
designating Edith Sampson as the NCNW representative on the world tour rather than herself. 
She insisted that the minutes show that because of her work at the United Nations as official 
observer for the NCNW, one of its affiliates, and the National Council of Women of the U.S., 
the NCNW had received the invitation to participate in the Town Hall Seminar World Tour in 
the first place. While that may have been problematic, obviously, Sampson wouldn't win New 
York's votes, if Carter had anything to do with it. 17 

Then there was Mississippi's Arenia Mallory, NCNW director of Region IV, which 
consisted of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Since the last 
convention NCNW field secretary Bertie L. Derrick, had whipped through the country on a 
council-organizing spree resulting in sixty-five new chapters, many of them in Region IV. I8 
Consequently, in '49, out of NCNW's eighty-four local councils, Mallory supervised thirty-one, 
with eight in her home state. She had come to Washington with them and the rest of the South 
behind her, along with "zeal and money," reminiscent of strategies Bethune had used twenty- 
four years earlier to win the presidency of the National Association of Colored Women in 

Chicago. 

While somewhat muted, fierceness ruled the election. Bethune probably believed that it 

was going to rip the organization asunder. She may have been right, for as one journalist 

observed, "She [Bethune] has no peer in ability to size up and handle people, all and any kind of 

people. Even her bitterest enemies grudgingly admit she's a shrewd operator " Consequently, 



280 
although giving the impression to the convention that it would determine the next president, on 

the eve of the election, Bethune decided that Dorothy Ferebee, the national treasurer, would 
succeed her. Obviously, educator Bethune prevailed upon educator Mallory, in their mentor- 
protegee relationship, to withdraw from the tight race and throw her support to Ferebee. In a 
stormy convention session, Mallory obliged with gusto. She declared that Ferebee was the 
candidate of the "little" women. By implication, she meant that Sampson was the candidate of 
the "select" few. Her speech divided the convention further. In response, Sampson asked to 
withdraw, saying that she would not participate in an "unholy alliance." The parliamentarian 
ruled that both Mallory's and Sampson's names would remain on the ballot. The convention 
was in "pandemonium." Stunned or disgusted with the fix, most delegates refused to cast a 
ballot. Out of a possible 400 votes, more or less, only 141 were cast. Sampson polled 19; 
Mallory, 25; and Ferebee, 97. But lost was the motion to elect Ferebee by acclamation. Having 
experienced such an emotionally charged day, the delegates who attended the dinner for Bethune 
that evening had much to digest. 

The NCNW Honors Bethune 19 

Held in the spacious Department of the Interior 's dinning facility, the gala dinner feting 
Bethune was the work of a busy thirty-seven woman committee headed by Marion H. Elliott, 
chair of the council's Intercultural Committee, with co-chair Edmonia White-Davidson assisting. 
Backing this committee were more than seventy patrons in and out of the council. Estimates 
varied about the number attending, with the Pittsburgh Courier 's report of 800, the median 
figure. As publisher W.A. Scott remarked, the event was classy. The printed program included 
the citation on the Scroll of Honor presented to Bethune and her photograph taken at Council 



281 
House attired in "a plain, long-sleeved, black velvet evening gown, the bottom of its square 
neckline accentuated with a half-inch strip of silver sequins," the gown she wore to the dinner. 
President-elect Dorothy Ferebee presided over the celebration "with her usual poise, grace and 

dignity." 

Tributes offered by those who knew Bethune in varying capacities dominated the 
program, with council women emphasizing, "She stands as a beacon light of our idea of the 
stature of woman." In a "contributions-oriented" testimonial, some might have omitted co- 
worker relations and spiritual philosophy. But on the evening of November 18 th , Frank Home, 
Bethune' s first assistant administrator in the National Youth Administration spoke on the 
former; the NCNW's Sue Thurman, the latter. With Bethune having made obvious contributions 
to education, women's groups, and youth affairs, two individuals waxed eloquent on each cause. 
Appropriately, black college presidents were slated to address Bethune in the field of education: 
Bethune-Cookman's Richard V. Moore and Morehouse's Benjamin Mays. Journalist Alice A. 
Dunnigan reported, however, that B-CC Trustee Texas Adams substituted for Moore. For 
women's groups, Ella P. Stewart, president of the National Association of Colored Women, and 
Olya Margolin, legislative representative of the National Council of Jewish women took the 
microphone. For youth, who better to speak than a youth and the former head of the old NYA. 
Ruth L. Harvey of the NCNW's Washington Junior Council and Aubrey Williams, seasoned 
social reformer in arms with Bethune, extolled the honoree's virtues. Presenters in other areas 
were Edmonia White Davidson of the YWCA National Board, for Bethune's contributions to 
civic affairs; John H. Sengstacke, editor-publisher of the Chicago Defender, for press relations; 
Oscar L. Chapman, under secretary of the Interior Department, for government; India Edwards 



282 
of the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee, for political affairs; and 

Chester Williams of the State Department, for international relations. 

Finally, after all the tributes were given, and then the "Scroll of Honor", flowers, and 

gifts as well, and the audience had "arose to its feet and burst forth with 'Let Me Call You 

Sweetheart,'" the NCNW Founder, in her "deep, melodious voice," prayed, "Oh God, I am so 

humbly grateful for this great love feast of friends who have come from the Atlantic to the 

Pacific, to bring tribute for the service which I have been able to render. I accept this, not for 

myself, but for all the great people who have worked with me. Without you I could never have 

been able to be the Mary McLeod Bethune which I am. ..." To conclude, Bethune had written 

this farewell to her "daughters." 

Now I pass the lighted torch to you, with the hope that 
its flame will burn more brightly until thousands of 
torches are lighted around the world, and that this band 
of women may be so consecrated to the cause of human 
welfare that it is discovered they have built a bridge, 
incorruptible and timeless—of love, of fellowship and 
of peace, over which in exaltation the peoples of all the 
world shall pass. Will you accept the challenge? 20 

Next day, perhaps Washington's Evening Star summarized well what the banquet 
accolades collectively had emphasized about Bethune. "No other American woman of her time 
has been interested in a longer list of good causes or toiled more devotedly in their behalf. .... 
Mrs. Bethune has not served the Negro community exclusively," the Star editorialized. "Her 
purposes have been worldwide, her objectives unlimited by any arbitrary restriction of race or 
creed or class. In her 'retirement' she deserves the gratitude of all Americans of good will." 21 

Interestingly, as Bethune retired from the NCNW helm, three Washington newspapers 



283 
mentioned her in conjunction with educator-race statesman Booker T. Washington, who had 
died more than three decades earlier. The Star maintained, "Her life has paralleled that of 
Booker T. Washington, but it has been more fruitful of immediate results. She has had the 
happiness of witnessing her own achievement to an extent not equaled by the sponsor of 
Tuskegee." Columnist Genevieve Reynolds of the Washington Post contended, "Many . . . 
regard her as the spiritual successor of Booker T. Washington." Columnist Ralph Matthews of 
the Washington Afro-American observed, "Mrs. Bethune, like Booker T. Washington, came up 
the hard way. . . struggling against tremendous odds in a benighted section of the country. . . Out 
of this poor soil she not only forced flowers of tolerance to bloom, but like ripples in a pond her 
influence spread from Daytona Beach across the nation." 22 

Mary McLeod Bethune was gratified with her merited recognition. She had hoped that in 
retiring, her "beautiful women" would in "one grand chorus" say, "She has done her work!" 23 
They did so in her citation. In part it stated, "May the names Mary McLeod Bethune and the 
National Council of Negro Women stand forever as symbols of women united joined in the 
cause of world brotherhood and world peace." 
Continuity in Change 

For five and a half years after retirement, Mary Bethune lived to see the National Council 
of Negro Women move on. She witnessed her two immediate successors, Dorothy Ferebee and 
Vivian Mason, assume control. Each was elected for a couple of two-year terms. Bethune 
recognized that under her successors continuity with the past reigned and that no other existing 
organization could substitute for the NCNW. 

A New Chief: Dorothy B. Ferebee 



284 
Some National Council sisters severely criticized the new President, for they still wanted 

Mary McLeod Bethune as the foremost representative of their organization in the early 1950's. 
Never a retiring violent, oftentimes when health permitted, Bethune obliged: in 1952 with the 
NCNW President abroad, in her own name she sent out the call to a council workshop. In that 
same year, Bethune wrote a Dallas council leader, "You are not fighting hard enough; you must 
get in the game and fight and fight hard. ... I am not reading enough about you in the papers." 
Assuredly, it was not easy for President Dorothy Boulding Ferebee to follow a legend. Historian 
Bettye Collier-Thomas reported that it took people at least a year before they properly 
acknowledged the new NCNW chief executive. 24 

President Ferebee took it all in stride, amply complimenting Bethune and giving her 
multiple platforms at the regular NCNW meetings. 25 The new chief was confident and well- 
prepared, managing her council responsibilities while holding down a full-time job at Howard 
University. Coming from a distinguished family counting eight lawyers and notable clubwoman 
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin of Boston, she was the daughter of Richard Benjamin and Florence 
(Ruffin) Boulding. After earning degrees from Simmons College in Boston and Tufts Medical 
School, she began careers as a private physician and a Howard University faculty member. She 
married dentist Claude Thurston Ferebee and became the mother of two. Dr. Ferebee burst into 
national consciousness as medical director of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Mississippi Health Project. 
Beginning in 1935, for seven summers it sent volunteer health care personnel in mobile field 
units into Mississippi's Holmes and Bolivar counties, where professional health care barely 
existed. In 1939, Ferebee became supreme basileus of her national sorority. Moreover, she was 
involved in many other charitable and civic organizations. 



285 
Occupying the NCNW presidency permitted Ferebee various opportunities. She gave 
health care education a higher priority on the council's agenda, just as one might think a 
physician-educator would. Attending the International Conference of Women in Greece and 
touring Germany as a member of the U.S. government's eleven-woman group studying that 
country's progress towards democracy in 1951, as well as revisiting it the following year, helped 
her to emphasize internationalism in the council program, along with globetrotter Edith 
Sampson, the U.S. Alternate Delegate to the U.N. Under Ferebee, other NCNW's priorities were 
desegregation of the armed forces, housing, employment, and voting. The organization pursued 
these advocacies largely in relation to other non-profit organizations and the federal government. 
Even though "advocating" sometimes provided no tangible benefits, Ferebee explained to 
council members that "leadership, unity, cooperation, action, etc.," while intangible, "are among 
the most important things of today's world." In part, these intangibles were council objectives. 26 

As the preceding indicate, even with a new president continuity with NCNW's past 
reigned. For about two years, President Ferebee held on to both executive director Jeanetta W. 
Brown and administrative secretary Arabella Denniston. Capable NCNW veterans whom she 
knew well continued in the leadership corps. Five elected individuals, who had previously 
served on the Board of Directors were re-elected, but not necessarily in the same position. They 
were Eunice Carter and Daisy George, New York; Daisy Lampkin, Pittsburgh; Sue Thurman, 
San Francisco; and Doris Wesley, Houston. Most of the other elected directors, were either well- 
known or had been active in the council for years. These included Jean Murrel Capers, 
Cleveland; Regina Chandler and Marion Elliot, Washington; Olivia Henry, Philadelphia; 
Dorothy Height, New York; Vivian O. Marsh, Berkely, California; Vivian C Mason, Norfolk; 



286 
Ora Stokes Perry, Kansas City, Missouri; Fannye Ayer Ponder, St. Petersburg, Florida; and 

Beulah T. Whitby, Detroit. Other directors hailed from Jacksonville, New Orleans, and 

Atlanta. 27 

Moreover, Ferebee continued the fundraisers. For example, in 1951 the council 
sponsored two celebrated entertainers: in May, jazz vocalist Hazel Scott in a New York benefit; 
the next month, the world renown Josephine Baker in Washington. The latter affair was "the 
largest, most expensive, and yet most successful financial project" the council had ever 
undertaken. When President Ferebee presented Baker a NCNW commendations citation before 
5,676 fans, the entertainer declared that it was the third happiest moment of her life. Baker had 
missed the council reception a month earlier for outstanding women, when for the first time it 
was not held at the Council House, but the Crystal Room of the Willard Hotel. 28 

In addition to extending itself on such occasions, the NCNW continued to be involved in 
civic affairs sponsored by others. In the first six months of 195 1, for example, it sent emissaries 
to meetings of the Citizens Federal Committee on Education, Women's Organizations in 
Defense, National Citizens Committee for United Nations Day, and Civilian Defense 
Conference; also, the National Conference on U.S. Foreign Policy, regional conferences of the 
American Association for the United Nations, the NAACP's Civil Rights Conference, U.S. 
Department of Treasury Meeting, and U.S. Attorney General's Sixth Annual Conference on 
Citizenship. 29 

Furthermore, continuity characterized the NCNW annual conferences. The 1950 
meeting, for instance, was similar to its predecessor. Held at the same locale with , both 



287 
meetings aired financial woes and probable solutions. Official reports of all kinds overflowed 
both, from the president, executive director, treasurer, regional directors, national affiliates, and 
departments. In 1950, the "Youth Conservation" Department enjoyed greater emphasis than 
previously, probably because of the White House Conference on Children and Youth that year 
and Ferebee's membership on the executive board of the White House's Children and Youth 
Council and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). And, while Frieda Miller, director 
of the Women's Bureau, had spoken in '49, the next year, in a two and a half-hour session on 
"Labor and Industry," again Miller presented. At both meetings, council sisters visited six 
embassies. Only the Haitians opened their doors for both. Others embassies that did so in 1949 
were the British, Greek, Indian, Israeli, and Mexican; the next year, the Canadian, Guatemalan, 
Liberian, Pakistani, and Philippine. Although the U.S. President did not stand forth as the 
principal draw on International Night in 1950, the council did very well in having the U.S. 
Secretary of State Dean Acheson speak to a full house. And, the custom of the dinner meeting 
continued on with addresses from two women experts on national defense, Esther Strong and 
Louise Saunders. 30 

While the council functioned mostly as usual, a few things occurred differently during 
Ferebee tenure. It ceased publication of its celebrated quarterly Women United in 1950, except 
as a comprehensive, hard-cover year book the next year. Likewise, the '51 convention voted to 
hold conventions every other year, which meant that the next regular meeting convened in '53. 
But apparently this was too much for some. With President Ferebee on a U.S. government group 
study mission in Germany, the Founder-President Emeritus called the Board of Directors to a 



288 
workshop at Council House for November 14-16, 1952, which culminated with a dinner at 
Howard University's Baldwin Hall, complete with guest speaker and honorees. Approximately 
100 women from twenty-one states and the District of Columbia responded. Except for the 
venue and smaller number, the workshop had the feel of recent annual meetings. 31 

Probably the best known initiative of the Ferebee presidency was a 1951 reception for 
Elizabeth Barkley, the bride of two years of the U.S. Vice-President Alben Barkley of Kentucky 
at Washington's Shoreham Hotel. This tea occurred during Brotherhood Week on Saturday, 
February 24, 1951. About 500 women of all backgrounds attended. Certainly, "Negro women 
came from all over the country to meet Mrs. Barkley." 32 "Guests were requested to make new 
friends, thus the affair was called the "Friends' Tea." Most praised the council profusely for 
affording them the opportunity to fellowship with such a diverse group of women and 
pronounced the event "one of the most outstanding social affairs in cultural relations sponsored 
by the NCNW." Spouses of Washington officials mixed and mingled, including the wives of the 
Attorney General and the Postmaster, Mrs. J. Howard McGrath and Mrs. Jesse M. Donaldson 
respectively; the wife of Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark; and those of several ambassadors, 
including the French and British; along with Congresswomen, business women, housewives, and 
teachers. Some even poured tea. 

The event had not occurred at the Shoreham by accident. The NCNW fought to rent the 
main ballroom, because no major Washington Hotel had previously opened up to a chiefly 
Afncan American group. Of necessity, the council had summoned its essentially white allies: 
the National Council of Jewish Women, the League of Women Voters, the National Council of 



289 
Catholic Women, and the Telephone Communication Workers of the Congress of Industrial 
Organization (CIO). Each had sent an emissary with President Ferebee and Executive Director 
Jeanetta Brown for a showdown with the hotel manager. "After consultation with the Banquet 
Manager and the Hotel Manager, and after applied pressure by these representatives," as 
Director Brown explained it, "the Hotel Manager reluctantly agreed to rent the facilities of the 
hotel to the Friends' Interracial Committee of the National Council of Negro Women." 33 When a 
new administration came to the capital, the NCNW staged a tea in honor of Patricia Nixon, wife 
of V.P. Richard Nixon. 

Vivian C. Mason in Charge 
Just as a new administration took power in the country in 1953, it did so in the NCNW. 
The council elected Vivian Carter Mason as president at its big November 1 953 conference—the 
one that featured Nelson A. Rockefeller, Under Secretary of the US. Department of Health, 
Education, and Welfare on International Night. Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on 
February 10, 1900, Vivian was the daughter of George and Florence Carter, a Methodist minister 
and music teacher. At the University of Chicago, from which she graduated, she had 
concentrated on political economy and social welfare. Later, she married William T. Mason, an 
astute real estate and insurance businessman. They had one son. Vivian Mason was New York 
City's first black female administrator in the Department of Welfare. In terms of voluntary 
societies, she was vice-president of the U.S. Congress of American Women and in 1945 went to 
Paris for a meeting of the International Congress of Women, where the International Democratic 
Federation of Women was created She was president of the Norfolk NCNW metropolitan 



290 
chapter and vice-president of the national. When President Ferebee had been out of the country, 

usually Mason acted in her stead. After presiding over the '52 workshop, Bethune wrote her, "I 

thought you did a rather unusual job. I am sure stock for you went up very high in the estimation 

of all the women present. I got the echoes of their reactions. You did a splendid job." 34 

Certainly, President Mason took to heart the NCNW 1936 charter provision that declared 
an organizational objective to be "To educate and encourage Negro women to participate in 
civic, political, economic and educational activities in the same manner as other Americans 
participate." For a twelve-month period beginning in November 1953, for example, the NCNW 
was well represented in the activities of other groups. Dr. Arenia C. Mallory attended the 
Triennial Conference of the International Council of Women of the World in Helsinki, Finland. 
Other NCNW sisters participated in meetings at home, including the Conference on Aging in 
Ann Arbor, Michigan and a meeting of the General Federation of Women's Clubs in Denver. 

Most assemblages of interest, however, occurred either in New York or Washington. In 
the former city, the largest number of council members, thirty-nine, participated in the U.N. 
Commission on the Status of Women; the second largest, twelve, the New York Herald Tribune 
Forum. Other New York-based conferences with council women representatives were the 
American Association for the United Nations, Citizens Conference on International Economic 
Union, Crusade for Freedom, National Advisory Committee on Health, Committee on Careers in 
Nursing, National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, National Health Council, National 
Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, and the Bicentennial Conference of Pi Lambda 
Honorary Society. In Washington, four council members attended each of the following: the 



291 
American Association for the United Nations, a Citizenship Conference, and a National 
Conference on Rural Education. Other Washington meetings that included NCNW emissaries 
were the Women's Bureau Conference; White House Conference on Highway Safety; Education 
Conference; Exchange Persons Program; Committee for Equal Pay; United Community 
Services; National Beauty Culturist League; Conference on Delinquency, Health, Education and 
Welfare; National Housing Conference; and Commission on the Status of Women. 35 

While the NCNW networked with others, it turned inward as well. Mason used her 
expertise in administration to streamline the management of headquarters and to bind chapters 
closer to the national office. The NCNW turned inward, however, not only to deal with internal 
matters, but to formulate positions on major issues of the day. During the Mason presidency the 
Supreme Court's Brown Decision on the constitutionality of segregation in public schools 
aroused the common weal like no other issue. Speaking for a unanimous court, on May 17, 
1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren proclaimed the following. 

We conclude that in the field of public education the 
doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational 
facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the 
plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions 
have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained 
of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by 
the Fourteenth Amendment. 36 

Implementation of the decision would require gigantic reforms in American life at a time when 

most Americans cherished the status quo. The Cold War had thrown reformers out of favor, for 

many viewed any leftward change, such as desegregation, the work of Communists. Historian 

Irwin Klibaner contends, "The anti-Communist fixation in American foreign and domestic 



292 
policy disrupted many efforts for peaceful social change. . . Consequently, the Supreme Court's 

historic decision of 1954. . found potential supporters too weak and disorganized and 

segregationists too strong for the decision to have much effect." He meant immediate effect. It 

would take Daytona Beach, for example, eight or nine years before it permitted an African 

American student to walk into a classroom at Mainland High School, previously all white. 37 

African Americans hailed the desegregation ruling. Bethune declared, "God bless those 

nine men who had the courage to hand down the truth to America and the world according to the 

Constitution of the United States." About a month afterwards, thirteen national affiliates, 

officers, and department chairs of the NCNW came together with specialists to craft a response 

to the decision. The council disseminated that response to all national affiliates and local 

council presidents to encourage them "to work courageously and consistently with calmness of 

purpose and spirit to foster in all possible ways, the implementation of the historic decision of 

the Supreme Court." The response statement challenged members to help "to create a climate 

for the acceptance of the decision," in part by urging them "to mobilize the support of local and 

state officials," and to make "the whole process of preparation for integrated living a part of 

their daily lives." All council leaders were savvy enough to realize, however, that the Brown 

decision was only the beginning of a process, and not the end, and that it wouldn't be easy to 

implement. 38 How right they were! During that summer, when the Washington D.C. School 

Board decided that in light of school re-zoning for integration, pupils would have the option of 

finishing whatever elementary, junior high, and senior high school they were in at the time, the 

NCNW signed a written protest to this gradualism, along with the NAACP, American Veterans 



293 
Committee, Catholic Inter-Racial Council, and the Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice. 
Even so, foot-dragging continued as the order of the day. 39 

While the NCNW could make little headway in creating a climate for the acceptance of 
school desegregation, in 1955 it could joyfully observe its Twentieth Anniversary. This could 
have focused some on the truth that sometimes blacks and whites were "women united;" and 
that where attitudes were positive, desegregation worked. One enjoyable anniversary event was 
the pilgrimage to Daytona Beach, April 7-9, 1955, where council sisters witnessed the works of 
their Founder: Bethune-Cookman College, Bethune- Volusia Beach; and the Mary McLeod 
Bethune Foundation. About the occasion, the intuitive Bethune remarked, "It had something 
that could not be expressed verbally, only felt. It was historic. It did something to each person 
present." 40 

The most significant anniversary affair, however, occurred during Brotherhood Week, an 
observance for all Americans, which began in 1934 in the birthday week of founding father 
George Washington. Facilitated by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the week 
was "to create justice, amity, understanding and cooperation among Protestants, Catholics, and 
Jews," and to emphasize "the basic worth of human personality" inherent in these faiths. 41 On 
February 26, 1955, the NCNW celebrated the week by giving a luncheon honoring Mary 
Bethune at the Willard Hotel in Washington. There, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt 
challenged all not just to talk brotherhood, but to practice it. For advancing brotherhood 
principles, the National Council of Negro Women cited media personality Ed Sullivan, Professor 
Auguste Hoggman of the University of Berlin, and its own stalwart Jane Morrow Spaulding, then 



294 
consultant to the Foreign Operations Administration. 

Naturally, attention focused on the NCNW Founder. About 800 people had come to pay 
homage to her and to hear her oratory. Reacting to the program, Bethune spoke to all and then 
directly to council members. "I am grateful to you, my daughters. I have been the dreamer. 
But, oh, how wonderfully you have interpreted my dreams." Concluding, she gave voice to her 
well-known, and profoundly felt Christianity. "God bless you. God inspire you, God dedicate 
every single one of you [to] a new today," she said, "to go out and shine! shine! so that your light 
may be seen in distant places and men and women everywhere will know the spirit of 
brotherhood, the spirit of the great Christ who gave Himself that we might have life and have it 
more abundantly." 

Later, in her newspaper column, Bethune named the event "one of the most 
heartwarming experiences of my life." To Cecelia Smith, her closest schoolmate, she related, "I 
think that the luncheon was one of the outstanding things that will ever be done by the National 
Council of Negro Women. It was really a gem. I thank God that I have lived to see the women 
in action in such a find way." 42 

Towards a "True and Unfettered Democracy" 

In 1955, the National Council of Negro Women had contended for twenty years with the 
downside of gender and race. It was circumscribed politically by its members' relative lack of 
experience in running large-scale operations and their lack of control over substantial economic 
resources, the general afflictions of mainstream women's organizations of the era in relation to 
male-dominated ones. Furthermore, it was handicapped as a creation of black women. In a 



295 
white-dominated country and world, its members were barred from a myriad of opportunities 

available to other women. 

As the organization's indispensable center, Bethune helped NCNW members handle 
their ascriptive limitation by offering hope that America would afford them justice. Bethune 
believed that collective activity, such as the council represented, prodded the country towards 
that end; that coalition effort was the chief means by which an aggrieved people become 
powerful politically and economically. In the process of harnessing black women's 
organizational strength, Mary Bethune inspired her "beautiful women" in part through majestic 
public address. She did not so much urge positive change, as to emphasize the change already in 
progress as a harbinger of the better future, no matter how token it may have appeared. 43 Her 
council members cited her appropriately when they proclaimed, "Through your work, [you] have 
given to us, the glory of womanhood, the permanent hope for full citizenship, and an abiding 
faith in our fellowman." 44 

Although some New Yorkers contended for headquarters in their city, Bethune knew that 
the seat of government afforded unrivaled opportunities to advance causes of ebony women. 
Consequently, the National Council of Negro Women planted itself in the life of black and white 
Washington, as the maintenance and functions of the Council House suggested. From 1938 to 
1955, no other national black women's group participated as consistently in capital city life, 
despite shrieks that the council duplicated the work of a more established organization. And, 
council members' efforts were not in vain. They laid a foundation for the future, from which, 
for example, their emissary was included in the national leadership corps for civil rights in the 



296 
momentous 1960's, when leaders of other distaff groups were mostly excluded. 45 

The accomplishments of the National Council of Negro Women during Bethune's 
lifetime may be classified in six broad and overlapping categories. 

1 . The NCNW enriched the infrastructure of black women networks, especially by 
nurturing leaders of national affiliates and local councils. In some cases, by serving as a 
prototype of procedure and program emphases, it offered leaders models that they could copy in 
their own units. The council gave thousands of women opportunities to participate in various 
projects which they may have had to otherwise forego. It would have been unattractive, for 
instance, for any single council affiliates to sell U.S. Savings Bonds sufficient to name a liberty 
ship; together, however, they did it. And, some affiliates may not have had the resources to 
stage an employment clinic from scratch; but the council as whole developed models and 
materials for all. 

The NCNW kept women leaders intelligently focused on macro civic issues. In 1943, for 
example, it made available to them experts on housing, consumer education, employment, child 
welfare, the armed forces, and intercultural relationships. At most other annual meetings timely 
issues were intelligently discussed by knowledgeable people. The women returned to their local 
communities or national organizations knowing the latest information on these issues "with 
something of the know-how of mobilizing opinion and organizing for community action," as the 
Washington Post 's 1947 editorial on the NCNW read. 

Although NCNW's constituent national organizations and local councils often failed to 
participate in projects launched from Council House, nevertheless, simply bringing their leaders 



297 
together constituted a form of NCNW nurture, because they encouraged and learned from each 
other what worked and what didn't, and were fortified in the knowledge that the unit each 
represented had allies in pursuit of worthwhile goals. Moreover, the council stimulated these 
leaders to reach out to other women, as Theoline Simpson explained in "Why I Am a Member of 
the NCNW." 

My association with the women of the National Council 
has encouraged me to work and cooperate with women of 
progressive groups wherever I find them in an effort to improve 
the status of the Negro People of America. 46 

These factors were probably of special importance to the newer national organizations 
that inherently profited from the National Council of Negro Women and other forums providing 
recognition and stimuli for growth. Those founded during Bethune's presidential tenure were 
the National Jeanes Association, for supervising public school teachers who promoted 
vocational instruction and were funded in part by a private source; Women's Army for National 
Defense (WAND), established to afford black women opportunities to render volunteer defense 
services in their communities during World War II and afterwards; Lambda Kappa Mu Sorority 
for businesswomen; National Association of Beauty School Owners and Teachers; National 
Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers; Auxiliary to the National Dental Association; 
and the Women's Auxiliary to National Medical Association. 

2. The NCNW multiplied points of positive contacts between black and white women 
leaders at a time that apartheid ruled race relations. During the first twenty years of NCNW, 
relatively few opportunities existed for black and white women to come together as equals. The 
NCNW made a concerted effort to include white women in their activities, especially through 



298 
their annual meetings and as contributors to their journal. It was probably enlightening to some 

whites that the NCNW took the initiative to involve them in supporting the Fair Employment 

Practices Committee or to participate in a series of conferences on improving race relations, or 

to commend some for their contributions through its annual "Rolls of Honor," or to invite them 

to receptions, luncheons, or dinners. In the late 1940's the NCNW even aspired "to include the 

total integration of all of America's people-regardless of race, creed or color, into every aspect 

of national life and world understanding," and renamed their magazine Women United 'to be 

inclusive. Through the council, black women leaders either established or furthered contacts 

with various female leaders in government, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; 

Congresswomen Frances Payne Bolton, Helen Gahagan Douglas, and Chase Going Woodhouse; 

bureaucrats Mary Anderson, Frieda Miller, and {Catherine Lenroot; and diplomat Florence 

Jeffery Harriman. Also, it courted relations with the likes of historian Mary Ritter Beard, 

writer-editor Lillian Smith, labor leader Dorothy Bellanco, international health administrator 

Martha M. Eliot, and Mary Pillsbury Lord, chair of the National Civilian Advisory Committee 

for the Women's Army Corps and other civic bodies. Additionally, the NCNW networked with 

the leaders of various predominately white women's organizations including the National 

Council of Women of the United States, National Council of Jewish Women, National Council 

of Catholic Women, American Women's Voluntary Service, League of Women Voters, and 

General Federation of Women's Clubs. 

3. The NCNW projected an enhanced image of black women and their history to the 

country and world that served somewhat as a corrective to the skewed images then circulating. 



299 
The image of black women in America was less than attractive. They were never portrayed in 
mainstream media holistically. They were not presented as normal Americans with wide- 
ranging backgrounds, interests, desires, and aspirations. In America's mind, black women were 
essentially servants, sometimes mammies, sometimes sirens. They were seen as immoral, 
superstitious, or as comic relief, or just in the shadows of white people. True, at mid-century 40 
percent of black women in the work force were domestics, but that was how they made a living 
and not necessarily who they were. 47 

The NCNW showed a different picture of black women for all who had eyes to see. It 
was a picture of educated, well-groomed, well-dressed, articulate, and civic-minded women. 
They were teachers, nurses, secretaries, clerks, librarians, administrators, attorneys, artists, 
writers, businesswomen, bureaucrats, homemakers, and community activists,~the kind of black 
women seldom seen in Hollywood films or mainstream newspapers and magazines of the era.. 
They went to the White House for meetings, lobbied their Congressmen, testified before 
Congressional Committees, and in other ways worked for civic improvement. The many visitors 
to Council House or those who visited the NCNW annual meetings understood that council 
members had concerns similar to those of other civic-minded women. Upon reading the 
Aframerican Woman 's journal, perhaps whites began to realize that there were millions of 
inarticulate black women for whom the NCNW might be speaking. Upon hearing of black 
women's contribution to the nation during World War II through the NCNW's "We Serve 
America" Week or their role in launching the S.S. Harriet Tubman, it may have occurred to 
some whites that black women were as patriotic as other citizens. Upon learning of the black 



300 
women's participation in the 1940 New York World's Fair, or their support for a stamp honoring 

Booker T. Washington and a monument to George Washington Carver, or the book and archival 

display in the Council House Board Room, some whites may have realized that black women 

had an appreciation for their history, just as others appreciated theirs. 

People other than white Americans observed the positive images of black women that the 
NCNW projected. Foreigners diplomats saw and appreciated them, as their attendance at 
NCNW functions year after year indicated. So did indigenous peoples who had encountered and 
were fascinated by Edith Sampson as she carried the National Council of Negro Women's name 
around the world. For those with little, such symbolism engendered hope, especially among the 
daughters of African Americans. The New York black teenager Shirley Chisholm, for example, 
after seeing in the black press one photo after another of Bethune with Eleanor Roosevelt and 
other movers and shakers, began to ponder the possibility that she, too, might one day become a 
national figure. As such thinking in the life of the first African American Congresswoman may 
suggest, perhaps the NCNW's projection of black women as civic doers impacted most a rising 
generation of black women. 48 

4. The NCNW helped to pioneer the professional employment of black women in the 
federal establishment. In Mary Bethune's words, the council assisted in "opening doors," 
especially for those a generation younger than herself. In light of the NCNW's demonstration 
during its White House Conference of the need for ebony women in professional government 
positions, at least in federal programs benefitting black women and children, and the 
compilation of several lists of black women prepared for professional federal employment, very 



301 
few race women found such jobs. But without Bethune and the council, its problematic, for 
example, that there would have been sister professionals in the Children's Bureau and Women's 
Bureau in the 1940's, given the nonchalance to their employment of white women who directed 
these programs. And the fact that in 1941, Bethune publicly lauded the ten sister professionals 
who had broken through to jobs in the federal bureaucracy underscored the significance of 
white-collar black women in government. 

5 . The NCNW made the presence of black women customary at national and 
international meetings involving women, sponsored by either government or private entities. 
Fortunately for the NCNW, it first insisted on participation in the federal government's activities 
for women at a time when the incomparable and sympathetic Eleanor Roosevelt lived in the 
White House. She understood the justice of black women's requests and, more than any other 
individual in Washington, facilitated their participation in governmental affairs. NCNW 
membership on the National Advisory Committee of the Women's Interest Section in the War 
Department was just one of many ways in which black women served national interests along 
with other women. Even though the government did not treat black women equitably, for 
example, it appointed none of their organizations as advisors to the U.S. delegation at the 
founding conference of the United Nations—but five organizations of white women— out of a 
total of forty or forty-two-it did recognize the NCNW in other ways. Relative to black women's 
participation in events sponsored by private groups, NCNW's greatest triumph was facilitating 
the participation of Edith S. Sampson in the Town Hall World Seminar, which led to her being 
elected president of that seminar, and later appointed an alternate U.S. delegate to the United 



302 
Nations. While the seminar had been a one-time affair, the NCNW participated on a continuing 

basis in the U.S. National Council of Women, the American Association for the United Nations, 

and other such groups. 

6. The NCNW advanced civil rights as a national issue. While the NCNW had few mass 
meetings at its annual assembly called "Women United for Civil Rights," as in 1948-in support 
of President Harry Truman's civil rights initiatives-nevertheless, it consistently advocated the 
extension of rights to African Americans, particularly enfranchisement, strong federal anti- 
lynching legislation, and non-discrimination in opportunities for education, employment, 
housing, and health care. Often the NCNW labored in cooperation with leading civil rights 
groups, including the NAACP, National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax, the Federal Council 
on Negro Affairs (Black Cabinet), the March on Washington Movement, National Council for a 
Permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee, the Southern Conference for Human 
Welfare, and the Southern Conference Education Fund. The NCNW's inclination to work 
within coalitions in letter-writing campaigns, research, dissemination of literature, informational 
forums, and the like, proved indecisive in creating dramatic reform. That occurred in the direct- 
action protest movement of the 1960's. But like so many other groups prior to that time, the 
NCNW from 1935 to 1955 helped to lay a foundation for that revolution. 

While not an accomplishment per se like those above, still, the NCNW idealism merits 

comment, for it was an exhilarating aspect of the organization. Nowhere was it better expressed 

than in the vow from the 1950's dear to members. It read this way. 

It is our pledge to make a lasting contribution to all 
that is finest and best in America, to cherish and enrich 



303 



her heritage of freedom and progress by working for the 
integration of all of her people, regardless of race, creed, 
or national origin, into her spiritual, social, cultural, 
civic and political life, and thus aid her to achieve the 
glorious destiny of a true and unfettered democracy. 49 

Notes 



1. Robert L. Daniel, American Women in the Kf 1 Century: The Festival of Life (San 
Diego: HarcourtBrae Jovanovich, 1987), 185-188, 197-198; Beverly Greene Bond, "Roberta 
Church: Race and the Republican Party in the 1950s," in Portraits of African American Life 
Since 1865, ed. NinaMjagkij (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 2003), 187-188. 

2. Daniel, American Women, 217-221; Bond, "Roberta Church," 193- 194; Louis Lomax, 
The Negro Revolt (New York: Harper and Row, 1962). 67-68; Peter M. Bergman, The 
Chronological History of the Negro in America (New York: New American Library, 1969), 542- 
543. 

3. Bethune to Constance Daniel, February 5, 1949, National Council of Negro Women 
Papers, Series 5, Box 10, Folder 181, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic 
Site, Washington, D.C.; Powell quoted from Earl Devine Martin, "Mary McLeod Bethune: A 
Prototype of the Rising Consciousness of the American Negro." (M.A. thesis, Northwestern 
University, 1956), 86. 

4. Bethune to Jeanetta Brown, April 6, 1949, NCNW Papers, Series 12, Box 2; Bettye 
Collier-Thomas, "The National Council of Negro Women," in Black Women in America, ed. 
Darlene Clark Hine, et. al. (Brooklyn, New York: Carlson Publishing, 1993), 861; Quotes from 
Lois Taylor, "National Council for Negro Women Selling Opportunities for Leadership," 
Washington Afro-American, April 21, 1951, Vertical File, Martin Luther King Library, 
Washington, DC. 

5. Bethune to Constance Daniel, February 5, 1949; Michael R. Gardner, Harry Truman 
and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University 
Press, 2002), 149. 

6. Bethune to Constance Daniel, February 5, 1949. 

7. Photograph showing host Ralph Edwards and Bethune with guests, NCNW Papers, 
Number 912, Series 14, Box 3, File 5. 

8. Lilliane R. Davidson, "Friends of B-Cookman to Open Drive in NY. for $2,860,000," 



304 
The Sunday News- Journal, October 30, 1949, Daytona Beach, BF. 

9. Bethune to James Dumbroski, August 5, 1949, BF. 

10. Bethune to Eleanor Roosevelt, January 18, 1949, Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, 1945-52, 
Number 3259, Franklin D Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York. 

1 1 . Eunice H. Carter to Jeanetta W. Brown, February 28, 1949, Eunice Carter to 
Bethune, June 2, 1949, Bethune to Eunice Carter, June 21, 1949, NCNW Papers, Series 12, Box 
2; Bethune to Constance Daniel, February 5, 1949. 

12. This summary of International Night was based primarily on the following: 
International Night Program, November 15, 1949, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 4, Folder 48; 
Washington Afro-American, November 19, 1949, 1, 9; Mrs. W.A. Scott, "Sidelights" [column], 
Birmingham World, November 26, 1949, 5; "Truman Says 'No Retreat' in Equal Rights Fight; 
Praises Dr. Bethune" Washington Post, November 16, 1949, 4B; "Truman Renews Rights Vow 
at NCNW Confab," Chicago Defender, November 26, 1949, 17. 

13. "The President Speaks to Council Members," Women United, (January 1950), 3-4. 

14. Constance E.H. Daniel, "Together Across a New Frontier, Women United, (October 
1949), 24-25; Elaine M. Smith, "International Council of Women of the Darker Races," in 
Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations, ed., Nina 
Mjagkij (Garland Publishing, 2001), 492-494. 

15. "Pioneers in the Struggle Against Segregation," Survey Graphic, 36 (January 1947), 
91-92. Others cited were W.E.B. DuBois, Charles H. Houston, A. Philip Randolph, and Paul 
Robeson; all quotes from Roi Ottley, "The Big Ten Who Run Negro America," Negro Digest, 6 
(May 1948), 4-9. Others cited were W.E.B. DuBois, A. Phillip Randolph, Charles S. Johnson, 
Willard S. Townsend, and Paul Robeson. 

16. This summary of the NCNW presidential election was based primarily on the 
following: Marjorie McKenzie, "Pursuit of Democracy" [column], Pittsburgh Courier, 
December 3, 1949, 15; Franklin Fosdick, "War Among the Women," Negro Digest, (February 
1950), 21-25; "Women Shed Tears as Bethune Retires," and "Stirring Gathering Draws Many to 
D. C," Pittsburgh Courier, November 26, 1949, 1, 5, 8; Mrs. W. A. Scott, "Sidelights" 
[column], Birmingham World, 1949; Chicago Defender, November 26, 1949, 1; Washington 
Afro-American, November 15, 1949, 11. 

17. Minutes of the Board of Directors, November 13, 1949, NCNW Papers, Series 3, 
Box 1, Folder 4. 



305 
1 8. Bertie Derrick to Bethune, April 5, 1948, NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 10, Folder 



181. 



19. This summary of the dinner was based primarily on the following: Dinner in Honor 
of Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune, Printed Souvenir Program, November 18, 1949, Private 
Collection; quotes from Alice A. Dunnigan, "Thousands Attend Testimonial Dinner for Mrs. 
Bethune," November 21, 1949, Claude Barnett Papers, Chicago Historical Society; "Mrs. 
Bethune Steps Down," Washington Afro-American, November 22, 1949, 1. 

20. Bethune, quoted from Dunnigan, "Thousands Attend Dinner, and "Farewell 
Address," NCNW Papers, Series 4, Box 7, Folder 47. 

21. Evening Star, [Washington, D.C.}, November 19, 1949, Franklin Delano Roosevelt 
Memorial Foundation Papers, Box 1 8, FDRL. 

22. Ibid., Genevieve Reynolds, "Dr. Bethune Eulogized," Washington Post, November 
19, 1949, 3B; Ralph Matthews, "Can 'Ma' Bethune Really Quit," Washington Afro-American, 
November 19, 1949, 1,21. 

23. Bethune, "Mary McLeod Bethune, Chicago Defender, October 29, 1949, 66. 

24. Criticism of Ferebee was so severe at the Executive Board Meeting held in her 
absence on November 14-16, 1952, that it was expunged from the minutes, according to Vivian 
C. Mason to Bethune, November 26, 1952, BF, Part 1, Reel 18. Bethune to Reba C. Hardin, 
September 10, 1952, BF, Part 1, Reel 18; Collier-Thomas, "The Council," 858. 

25. In 1950, for example, when Ferebee formally opened the annual meeting, she 
dedicated it to the Founder-President Emeritus, and "presented her for remarks." Minutes of the 
15 th Annual NCNW Convention, November 16-19, 1950, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 4, Folder 
52. Furthermore, Bethune was listed on the program as a speaker for International Night, as a 
discussant on the Children's Bureau, and as the respondent to the Historical Skit observing the 
NCNW Fifteenth Anniversary at the council dinner. Official Program, 15 th Annual Convention 
of the National Council of Negro Women, Incorporated, NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 4, Folder 
54. 

26. Margaret Bernice Smith Bristow, "Dorothy Boulding Ferebee," in Notable Black 
American Women, ed. Jessie Carney Smith (Detroit: Gale Research, 1992), 340-342; Margaret 
Jerrido, "Dorothy Celeste Boulding Ferebee," in Black Women in America, 425-426; Quotes 
from Minutes of the NCNW Annual Convention, October 25-27, 1951, NCNW Papers, Series 2, 
Box 5, Folder 58; Arabella Denniston to Bethune, March 16, 1951, BF, Part 1, Reel 17. 

27. Election results appeared in the Pittsburgh Courier, November 26, 1949, 8; officers 



306 
in 1949 were listed in the 1949 Convention Program. 

28. Bethune to Jeanetta W. Brown, May 2, 1951, BF, Part 1, Reel 17; Bethune to Hazel 
Scott, May 16, 1951, BF, Part 2, Reel 8. 

29. Jeanetta Welch Brown, Report of the Executive Director, January 2-July 15, 1951, 
BF, Part l,Reel 17. 

30. Although the 1949 Conference program listed the Ethiopian Embassy as 
participating in receiving NCNW members, in the Highlights of the conference, the Greek 
Embassy was listed instead of Ethiopia's. See Highlights of the 14 th NCNW Conference, 
NCNW Papers, Series 2, Box 4, Folder 52; Minutes, 15 th Annual NCNW Convention; Official 
Program 15 th Annual NCNW Convention. 

31. Minutes of NCNW Annual Convention, October 25-27, 1951, NCNW Papers, Series 
2, Box 5, Folder 58; "National Council's Session Opened by Mrs. M. Bethune," Journal and 
Guide [Norfolk], November 29, 1952, BF; "Pearlie's Prattle [column] and "National Council's 
Honorees of Year," Washington Afro-American, November 22, 1952, 9; Vivian Mason to 
Bethune, November 26, 1952. 

32. Vivian Mason to Bethune, April 13, 1951, BF, Part 2, Reel 6. 

33. Brown, Report, January 2-July 15, 1951. 

34. V. A. Shadron, "Vivian Carter Mason," in Black Women in America, ed. Hine, 754- 
756; "Women's International Organization Formed," Aframerican Woman 's Journal, (December 
1945), 17; Bethune to Vivian C. Mason, December 2, 1952, BF. 

35. NCNW Report, November 8, 1957, Appendix Page XXVI, NCNW Vertical File, 
Schomburg Research Center. 

36. Quoted from "Brown v. Board of Education," May 17, 1954, in From Slavery to 
Freedom, John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr. (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2000), 691. 

37. Irwin Klibaner, Conscience of a Troubled South: The Southern Conference 
Education Fund, 1946-1966 (Carlson Publishing: Brooklyn, N.Y, 1989), 1-2; Interview with 
Elizabeth Johnson, July 19, 2003, Tulsa. 

38. Bethune to Hazel Wilson, June 8, 1954, BF, Part 2, Reel 13; "Implementing the 
Supreme Court Decision," TELEFACT, May- June, 1954, NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 2, Folder 
11. 



307 

39. "Capital to Erase School Color Line "New York Times, July 2, 1954, 9. 

40. NCNW Minutes of the Executive Committee Meeting, February 25, 1955, NCNW 
Papers, Series 3, Box 2, Folder 27; Announcement of Annual Regional Conference, Regions III 
and IV, BF, Part 1, Reel 19; Bethune to Vivian Mason, April 25, 1955, BF, Part 2, Reel 6. 

41. An Invitation to Observe Brotherhood Week, February 18-25, 1940, Frank Porter 
Graham Papers, Number 1 141, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

42. "Brotherhood Urged," New York Times, February 27, 1955, 36; Bethune, "Address to 
the National Council of Negro Women Brotherhood Luncheon," February 26, 1955, in Bethune: 
Building a Better World, McCluskey and Smith, 281-282; Bethune, "Mary McLeod Bethune" 
[column], Chicago Defender, March 12, 1955; Bethune to Cecelia Smith, March 18, 1955, BF, 
Part 2, Reel 10. 

43. Conclusion reached in paper of Elaine M. Smith, "'My Fires Still Burn Bright:' Mary 
McLeod Bethune' s Rhetoric for Social Change in the 1950s," read at the annual meeting of the 
Rhetoric Society of America, May 2000. 

44. NCNW, Scroll of Honor to Bethune, November 18, 1949. 

45. Karen Anderson, "National Council of Negro Women," in Organizing Black 
America: An Encyclopedia of African American Association, ed. Nina Mjagkij, 449. 

46. Theoline Simpson, "Why I Am a Member of the NCNW," Aframerican Woman 's 
Journal, (Summer-Fall, 1947), 26. 

47. William Grant Still, "How Do We Stand in Hollywood?" Opportunity 23 (1945), 74- 
77. 

48. Elaine M. Smith, "Introduction: Womanist Activism: 'We Are Being Heard!'" in 
Bethune: Building a Better World, ed. McCluskey and Smith, 135. 

49. Preamble to the Constitution of the National Council of Negro Women, November 
1954, NCNW Papers, Series 1, Box 1, Folder 1. 



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Chapter 6 
Still Citizen Extraordinaire 
Introduction 

For African Americans, terror stalked the South in the 1950's. Even before the Supreme 
Court's Brown decision had crystalized the massive resistance of whites to the prospect of 
desegregated public schools, the region's long tradition of violence dramatically touched the 
Bethune-Cookman College family. In addition to the bombings in the Greater Miami area, on 
Christmas night, December 25, 1951, segregationists bombed the home NAACP State Secretary 
Harry T. Moore, 46, in Mims, Florida, about forty miles south of Daytona Beach. The bomb 
silenced forever his voter registration drives, inquiries into the malfeasance of public officials, 
and other civil rights activities. At a later date it caused also the death of his loving wife 
Henrietta. Both were B-CC graduates, as were their daughters, Annie and Evangeline. B-CC 
President Richard V. Moore spoke at the funeral for Florida's most "militant leader in the fight 
for human rights." In the aftermath of the bombing, racists threats to B-CC loomed so 
menacingly that the FBI made its presence felt around the perimeters of the campus. Nobody, 
however, was brought to justice for anything, certainly not the murders of Harry and Henrietta 
Moore. ' 

This was a part of Mary McLeod Bethune's world. She was deeply pained by the tragic 
bombing, especially having known Harry Moore and having his family so much a part of her 
college. She had fought such brutality throughout her career, but always as head of a respected 



309 
entity. This was not the case then, for she had given up the leadership of her major 
organizational structures in the 1940's: the college in '42, although she held the presidency of a 
temporary basis in 1946-47; the Negro Division of the National Youth Administration in '44, 
where she had distinguished herself not only in youth affairs but as a leader of black America; 
and, then, the National Council of Negro Women in '49, through which she had led women 
leaders in breaking down barriers to civic participation 

Bethune had accepted retirement with ample faith. She had known that her humanitarian 
spirit, fertile mind, and impulse towards action would probably keep her so busy that only 
illnesses would force her to rest, just as in the past. Youth, women, education, civil rights, and 
"the brotherhood of man," were trademark causes. And even without a major office, this 
legendary woman continued to embrace them eagerly, demonstrating an exemplary citizenship. 
"Still Citizen Extraordinaire" features an overview of Bethune's public life and several of her 
creative and transforming experiences during the 1950's. Additionally, it relates circumstances 
surrounding her death. 

The Golden Years 

As an icon of black pride in the 1950's, the Board of Education in Englewood, New 
Jersey, vilified Mary McLeod Bethune. It barred her from speaking at a local school on April 
24, 1952, because she was an alleged communist. With the country having yielded to 
McCarthyism's guilt by association, right wing groups enjoyed a field day besmirching the 
character of liberal Americans to discredit their leadership. Probably only the storm of national 
protest, led by the NAACP, caused the school board to accept Bethune's categorical denial of 



310 
subversive charges as sufficient grounds to lift the ban on her speaking. Fortunately, the galling 

Englewood ruckus for her was somewhat isolated. 2 Generally, Bethune enjoyed retirement. 

"The Golden Years" briefly surveys her major interests in the 1950's exclusive of gender 

advocacy, which was mostly channeled through the NCNW as indicated in the previous chapter. 

It considers Bethune's internationalism, promotion of integration, advancement of black 

economic institutions, focus on the federal establishment, and educational work. 

Bethune believed that one of the two top issues in America at mid-century was 

"strengthening and sustaining the United Nations" so that it could foster "the unity essential to 

peace." 3 As an internationalist, in the 1950's she visited the Bahamas, Canada, and Liberia. 

Only the trip across the Atlantic, however, fulfilled a life-long dream. She tread the soil of 

Africa. Along with three other official delegates from the United States—Ambassador Edward R. 

Dudley, Major General James S. Stowell, and Afro-American newspaper publisher Carl Murphy- 

-she attended the second inauguration of Liberian President William VS. Tubman. Bethune 

crammed much into her eight days in the motherland, even organizing in Monrovia, the capital, 

a chapter of the National Council of Negro Women. At the time, Liberia and her Caribbean 

cousin Haiti were the only black republics on earth. When Bethune had visited the latter country 

in 1949, she was decorated with its highest award; while visiting Liberia, she received its 

parallel honor, the Order of the Star of Africa. 4 

Meshing together the international and national, this decorated woman's number one 

issue was "ending segregation and discrimination for ever," because it constituted "the first step 

to world peace." She applauded the landmark Brown Decision, for it was a step towards ending 

segregation. A year afterwards, as resistance mushroomed against it, she argued in her final 



311 
Chicago Defender column that the "U.S. Will Make The Grade' in Integrating All Its Schools" 

because "Integration of the races in public education is the only democratic way." 5 She believed 
that democracy was the best political system that humankind had devised, but it had failed to 
incorporate African Americans. Having allied with those endeavoring to open the system up in 
the Southern Conference Educational Fund, she found it "incredible that this organization 
together with two such staunch humanitarians as Aubrey Williams and James A. Dombrowski 
should be questioned concerning their democratic ideals by a man like James Eastland," a 
Mississippi Dixiecrat, who like others of his ilk, persisted in fundamentally perverting 
democratic principles and Christian ethics. Bethune made this a public declaration. Eastland 
had led the U.S. Senate Subcommittee in effectively smearing her friends as Communists 
because of their unequivocal stand for desegregation. 6 But Bethune had not simply pontificated 
on justice for friends; she had been in the trenches in Daytona Beach insuring the best 
circumstances for blacks to exercise their court-sanctioned right to attend cultural affairs in the 
municipal Peabody Auditorium. It was located on the peninsular side of the city, a locale 
traditionally off-limits to blacks in the evening unless employed there. 7 

As Bethune worked for integration, she also helped to build black institutions. This type 
of balance, described as integrated-autonomy, characterized her race leadership. Her institutions 
were not only non-profit, for she fervently believed that "as long as Negroes are hemmed into 
racial blocs by prejudice and pressure, it will be necessary for them to band together for 
economic betterment." She did this, especially with regard to the Central Life Insurance 
Company of Florida and the Bethune- Volusia Beach. From March to December 1 95 1 , after the 
death of business leader G.D. Rogers, Bethune was chief executive officer of the Central Life 



312 
Insurance Company of Florida, then a one and a half million dollar business, headquartered in 

Tampa. Of the thirteen founders of the enterprise in the 1920's, she was the last survivor. 8 

In contrast to her short leadership at Central Life, Bethune had a long, involved 

relationship with Bethune- Volusia Beach, a two and a half mile expanse of land fronting the 

Atlantic Ocean and extending back to the northern arm of the Indian River. It was located about 

twenty-four miles south of Bethune-Cookman College. With plans for a black resort, Bethune, 

G.D. Rogers, and two other partners had purchased the land in the 1940's for $125,000. 

Afterwards, they carved it into lots hawked among African Americans nationally. At a cost of 

$100,000, in 1952 Bethune and partners opened the two-story, cinder-block Welricha Motel, a 

getaway Bethune enjoyed. It, like this beach, welcomed all comers, regardless of race. Blacks, 

however, needed the resort because whites barred them from exceedingly long expanses of the 

Atlantic and Gulf coasts in Florida and other states. In Volusia County, anchored by Daytona 

Beach, African Americans had access to no public beach. Yet, unlike assistance to white 

developments, both financial institutions and local government discriminated against the 

Bethune- Volusia enterprise, making its development under black ownership highly problematic. 

Even so, Bethune held on until the day she died. 9 

While Bethune was unable to involve the federal government in her beach development, 

still, she like most African Americans expected it to help combat the burdens of discriminatory 

practices. Her strategy was to achieve access to federal officials through partisan politics. She 

participated in activities of Americans for Democratic Action and the National Democratic 

Party. She understood that the election of race liberals to strategic government positions was 

crucial to minority advancement. In 1950, therefore, she campaigned in two U.S. Senate races. 



313 
She supported California Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas' bid for the Senate. While 
her candidate won in the Democratic Primary, in the general election she lost to Republican 
Richard M. Nixon. Bethune spent much more time in the U.S. senate re-election campaign of 
Herbert Lehman in New York, the state in which she was a registered voter, and was exhilarated 
when he won. Two years later, she voiced unequivocal support for the Democratic standard 
bearers Adlai Stevenson and John Sparkman, who were defeated by the Eisenhower-Nixon 
ticket. 10 

But before that occurred, Bethune was glad that a Democrat occupied the White House. 
With relative ease, she saw the President, both alone and in groups. Probably her most 
publicized visit occurred with eleven other black leaders. Labor leader A. Philip Randolph 
arranged it. They wanted the elimination of segregation in the nation's capital and in the army; 
appointments, not so much as consultants and advisers, but to government policy-making 
positions; appointments in the foreign and diplomatic service; and inclusion in the mushrooming 
jobs pertaining to the heated Korean War. With a Republican Congress refusing to budge on 
civil rights, the liberal and courageous Truman did what he could. u In a more personal way, as 
far as Bethune was concerned, the President appointed her not only as a U.S. representative to 
the Liberian inauguration, but also to the National Advisory Council of the Federal Civil 
Defense Administration, where she served from May 5, 195 1, to November 24, 195 1 . Upon 
resigning, she submitted four names to Truman to consider as her replacement, all prominent 
NCNW members: Jeanetta W. Brown, Venice Spraggs, Eunice Hunton Carter, and Vivian Carter 
Mason. 

In other federal service, Bethune worked as a consultant in the Farmers Home 



314 
Administration, lodged in the Department of Agriculture in Washington. Her friend Dillard B. 

Lasseter from the National Youth Administration hired her, beginning on November 29, 1950. 
She stayed on until July 19, 1951. By then, federal employment had become untenable, due to 
the climate promoted by Senator Joseph McCarthy's anticommunist witch hunt. Bethune was 
vulnerable because, as one informed individual put it, "In the early Thirties, she [Bethune] did 
lend her name to several organizations later proved to be [Communist] 'fronts,'" although no 
one ever charged that she knew they were Communist at the time. l2 

No red-baiting or anything else could stop Bethune, however, from promoting education, 
a cause universally identified with her. She continued her affiliation with Carter G. Woodson's 
Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Historian Pero Gaglo Dagbovie notes that 
during her presidency of that organization from 1936 to 1952, "she did contribute significantly 
to the intellectual climate of the annual meetings; serve as a well-known representative, fund- 
raiser, and publicist for the Association; and support Woodson in his quest to popularize African 
American history." 13 

This remarkable woman also promoted the United Negro College Fund, a collective 
national campaign waged by ill-endowed private black colleges, beginning in 1943. As "a very 
staunch supporter of the Fund," Bethune sat on its Board of Directors, attending her last 
directors' annual meeting on March 19, 1955, at the Biltmore Hotel in New York. Of course, 
Bethune-Cookman College was a UNCF member. It joined before accredited, and therefore 
ineligible for membership. "But she [Bethune] brought it in anyway!," related Frederick D. 
Patterson, founder of UNCF. 14 

Even in retirement, Bethune hovered over her college like she was still running it. But 



315 
the post World War II world was so different than when she had started the institution in 1904 
with the legendary "five little girls, a dollar and a half, and faith in God." Had she been able to 
regain control again as in 1946, B-CC may have gone the way of Haines Normal and Industrial 
Institute in Augusta, Georgia. Its founder-principal, Lucy Laney, the premier black woman 
educator at the turn of the nineteenth century, held on to her creation virtually fifty years, 
presiding over both its flowering and decline. Sixteen years after her death in 1933, Haines 
officially closed and its building were razed. 

In the 1950's, Mary McLeod Bethune found that she could not maneuver the trustees of 
B-CC as in yesteryear, even though they, as everybody else, were deferential in manner. This 
made for an anguished personal adjustment in private, from center stage as president to side 
stage as president-emeritus. Psychologically, she took almost a decade to find the right place. 
The adjustment culminated in 1952 after the B-CC Board of Trustees voted confidence in 
President Richard V. Moore, whom Bethune had attempted to ouster, as she had done Moore's 
competent predecessor, James A. Colston. 15 Bethune acknowledged a coming to terms with an 
honorary college role in her July 1952 Christian Century piece, "God Leads the Way, Mary." 
Here she seemingly depicted retirement from the B-CC presidency as a recent occurrence. A 
month later she confided to an intimate, "Things are going well with the College. I have 
released my responsibility and I am realizing more and more everyday that the best I could do 
has been done." 16 Even so, nobody could attract celebrities to the campus like Mary McLeod 
Bethune! Participating in the fiftieth anniversary of the college were baseball's hardy pioneer 
and star Jackie Robinson; writer, editor, columnist, lecturer Langston Hughes; contralto Marian 
Anderson; and Nobel Peace Prize Medalist Ralph Bunche. They came to honor Bethune. 



316 
Creative and Transforming Experiences 

Women's Leadership Conference 

Towards the end of her life, Mary Bethune believed as passionately as ever in the 

possibilities of women and the rewards to be gained from unity, even if only briefly. She wanted 

women from disparate backgrounds-assuredly different colors, creeds, and nationalities--to 

come together, share, work, and inspire each other to improve society. Toward that end in the 

late 1940's, she was behind a redefinition of the council as "an organization to unite in purpose 

and action millions of women, regardless of race, religion, national origin or ancestry;" and 

assuredly, she persuaded the NCNW to change the name of its quarterly from the Aframerican 

Woman 's Journal to the more inclusive Women United. It went defunct, however, two years 

later. Next, she wanted it to trade-in the name of the organization for something new: the 

National Council of Women United. She still endeavored to sell the idea in 1953 at the last 

regular NCNW annual meeting she attended, and while the organization later voted for the 

name-change, that appellation never stuck. 17 

Even so, Bethune still had the pleasure of a leading role in convening female leaders 

from a representative group of associations to consider "Strengthening the Forces of Freedom.* 1 

This Women's Leadership Conference, April 4-6, 1952, did not take place in Washington or 

New York, as so many of Bethune 's triumphs, or on the West Coast or across the sea. It 

occurred at Bethune-Cookman College, which provided "an atmosphere of understanding and 

goodwill." Two years before the U.S. Supreme Court repudiated segregation, black and white 

women representing much of the organized, moderate women in the country, together with 

delegates from Turkey and Germany, responded to the call of a black woman to meet in the deep 



317 
South at a black institution. 

Sisters, black and white, helped and encouraged Bethune to implement what she called 
"one of the largest undertakings of my life." 18 En route either to or from Liberia in January 
1952, affirming to her in Paris that "American women in leadership positions would welcome an 
opportunity for joint discussion," as she proposed, were Eleanor Roosevelt, then the U.S. 
delegate to the United Nations General Assembly and Edith Sampson, U.S. alternate delegate to 
that body. l9 Later, Roosevelt backed out. Then, Bethune 's Nobel Prize- winning friend Pearl 
Buck found she couldn't attend either. Some feared that while Bethune was a "big name," 
without a string of others the media would ignore the summit and therefore it should be 
postponed. Nevertheless, planning proceeded. When Chicagoan Stella Counselbaum of the 
Anti Defamation League of B'nai B'rith attended a planning meeting at the NCNW Council 
House, she was astonished with the "terrific job" NCNW members Marjorie Lawson and 
Margaret Butcher were doing in preparation for the conference. "Nothing I can say can 
adequately express the excellence of their activity," she old a friend. Then she lauded Arabella 
Denniston, whom she called "the Dean." "They [all three] are truly remarkably able women. 20 
Among the several other talented NCNW personalities also preparing for conference were 
Vivian C. Mason, Eunice H. Carter, and Dorothy Height. 

Furthermore, Bethune had girted women mobilized for the meeting in other places, 
particularly, Daytona Beach. Her invitation to participants identified the Advisory Board of 
Bethune-Cookman College, as the affiliation of some This group extended back to 1905, just as 
the institution's Trustee Board. This white majority body of women had always been an 
invaluable asset to Bethune's educational leadership. From it probably came the enthusiastic 



318 
conference coordinator Hazel Wilson and others who facilitated the smooth execution of local 

arrangements for blacks and whites in a segregated city. Probably an undisclosed woman gave 
Bethune the funds to defray travel expenses for delegates needing assistance. Mrs. Samuel 
McCrae Cavert co-chaired the conference. Bethune's good friend, former Congresswoman 
Helen Gahagan Douglas, whom President Harry Truman had appointed to a U.N. commission 
gave the keynote address. Two other personages were on hand to provide international 
perspectives, Anna Lord Strauss and the "NCNW's own Edith Sampson. In NCNW workshop- 
like forums, panelists addressed the theme with regard to education, employment, government, 
religious life, and family and community life. On the last day, a Palm Sunday, two women 
ministers-one black, the other white-conducted an inspiring service of dedication that helped to 
rekindle in all a sense that they could translate ideals into action. 

Writer Ruth D. Wilson, a New York-based member of the B-CC Advisory Board and the 
NCNW, reported that 127 delegates registered and many others came as visitors. She described 
the assembly as follows. 

The delegates included leaders of Christian and Jewish 
religious organizations on both state and national levels, 
members of both the Democratic and Republican National 
Committees, labor leaders of the AFL and the CIO; executives 
of Committees on Race Relations in Chicago, Detroit 
and New York City; women in leading positions in 
education, business, journalism and the law; in art and 
literature; leaders in sororities and in women's organizations 
of both races and of interracial groups; representatives of the 
League of Women Voters, the Anti-Defamation League, the 
Southern Regional Council; of federal bureaus concerned 
with women, children, immigration, labor and education; 
representatives for the State Department and from the United 
Nations. Germany, Turkey and the Virgin Islands were 
represented. 21 



319 
Although Mary McLeod Bethune had hoped for the best, she was amazed with the 
results. She explained to a friend, "I just could not imagine that we could have gathered 
together the type of women and the large number of women that we had here for that meeting. It 
was something extraordinary— something that has never happened before." Longtime Bethune 
secretary Arabella Denniston was less restrained. "We are jumping with joy here," she wrote 
from Washington. "Have reported profusely on the conference itself, the beauty of the college, 
the hospitality of the college family and friends, the generosity of the people in the community 
and the cooperation of all the local citizens." Like many others, Denniston believed that no 
other woman at the conference, could have called for such a gathering and received the excellent 
response that her "GRAND LADY" had. 22 

Perhaps typical of its significance to most, especially those having little personal contact 
with Bethune, was the reaction of Dorothy MacLeod, General Director of United Church 
Women of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S. She wrote, "Please let me 
say how very worthwhile I felt your Conference was. I marvel at how many leaders you were 
able to assemble in such a short time. I do not know anyone else who would have accomplished 
what you did in getting together representatives of so many organizations." She continued, 
"May I thank you for letting me attend, in addition to Mrs. [James D.] Wyker [Chairperson of 
United Church Women]. It was a rich experience for me and I was glad to share in it, for now 
Mrs. Wyker and I can plan more carefully together for the work of United Church Women in 
relation to this total group of women leaders. . . . MacLeod concluded, "Please know that we are 
eager to work closely with you. We shall welcome suggestions from you at any time. Personally 
it was a joy to be closely associated with you." 23 



320 
Bethune Foundation 24 

Whereas the Women's Leadership Conference was as an exhilarating, one-shot creative 

effort, Mary McLeod Bethune took an active interest in developing her namesake foundation, 

physically her Daytona Beach home, from 1952 until her death. Influencing Bethune to 

undertake the project in a general sense were her perennial desire for African Americans to build 

and control viable institutions and the dozen or so years she served as a trustee of "Cedar Hill," 

the Frederick Douglass Estate in Washington. The foundation continues to impact the present in 

ways similar to that of the Bethune Council House. Bethune's residences in both Daytona and 

Washington preserve the physical setting she inhabited and both house valuable archives. The 

Bethune Foundation manuscript collection in Daytona Beach, the most significant of Bethune's 

scattered papers, documents black life and race relations in the U.S. roughly from the death of 

Booker T. Washington in 1915 to the emergence of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1955. Unlike the 

Bethune Council House in Washington, the foundation is not a National Historic Site. The 

National Park Service designated it, however, a National Historic Landmark in 1975. Originally 

independent, it became a part of Bethune-Cookman College in 1959. 

Built in 1914, the foundation building, a modest, two-story, white frame home was 

valued in the early 1950's at $40,000. In style it appears to be a cross between a bungalow and a 

colonial. Even though the rooms are small by today's standards, the dinning room, master 

bedroom, and guest bedroom hold heavy formal furniture. Bethune deeded this, her homestead 

property, to the foundation, a charitable and educational corporation. Its objectives were to 

insure the preservation of the home, to perpetuate her ideas, to contribute scholarships to B-CC 

students, and to foster interracial goodwill. Most fundamentally, Bethune hoped that the 



321 
foundation would inspire people to achieve positive goals. Other motives prompting its 

establishment were Bethune's need for easy access to her papers to write an autobiography, 
which never materialized; the need to be in control of a major project; and the need for 
continuous ego gratification. Even so, the foundation defied challenge because it showcased an 
extraordinarily fruitful life. Friends recognized this fact through support, especially NCNW 
member Marjorie S. Joyner and her Beauty School Owners and Teachers Association in 
conjunction with its affiliate, the Alpha Chi Pi Omega Sorority and Fraternity. From them and 
other sources, the foundation raised about $18,000 in 1954. 

The foundation developed at a time when the country still honored the "separate but 
equal" way of life and democratic and communist antipathies continued to stoke the Korean 
Conflict. While it staged a conventional on-site dedication on Sunday, May 10, 1953, a big 
coming-out gala, in the form of a dinner, had occurred about two months earlier, in conjunction 
with the annual meeting of the B-CC Board of Trustees. On this occasion, trustee Eleanor 
Roosevelt, a first-time Bethune houseguest, declared, "This country has become the symbol of 
democracy. People don't ask you what you mean by democracy in America," she contended. 
"The way we live at home writes the meaning of democracy for them. So a foundation such as 
Mrs. Bethune is creating tonight will be an example of what democracy offers to people." 
Globe-trotting Roosevelt even predicted, "This foundation will help the Brotherhood of man in 
the World." 

Undoubtedly, Bethune agreed. Dressed in black velvet, accessorized with honorary 
medals and ribbons, she announced, "The Trustees [of the Foundation] will guard your gifts but I 
won't let them tie my hands. This is my vision. ... I shall do what I want to do to make it grow 



322 
up successfully." The hometown audience laughed and applauded. She had spoken true to form. 

Moral Re-Armament 

"I have longed to know the peoples of the world. I have longed to feel that I am just a 

human being, just one among the great creation of mankind," Mary Bethune told a world 

assembly in Caux, Switzerland, on July 27, 1954. "Here I have found no sign of segregation 

[and] discrimination. 'You have to go through the back door while I go through the front door. 

You can't have a cup of tea, hear this music, go into this park here.' These are words of a 

segregated nation," she said. Then contrasting that with the spirit of the Swiss mountain-top 

retreat she had visited for two weeks, Bethune asserted, "Under God we have the peoples of the 

world who have united their hearts and their minds in such a way that we feel as one." Having 

experienced this Shangrila, she expressed her sense of spiritual unity with all present. "7b be 

part of the great uniting force of our age is THE CROWING EXPERIENCE OF OUR LIFE." 

Bethune had been discussing Moral Re-Armament at its headquarters. Growing out of 

the Oxford Group, known for "religious house parties" generating high emotional excitement, 

MRA was a philosophical movement that U.S. Lutheran clergyman Frank Buchman (1878- 

1961), had founded in 1938. This conservative worldwide, anti-communist movement 

endeavored to prevent wars and other conflicts by having one individual at a time change his or 

her heart, reminiscent of Christianity's "born again" imperative, although MRA worked with 

people of all religious faiths. It stressed adherence to absolute moral standards: honesty, purity, 

unselfishness and love. Apparently one could feel MRA better than explaining it, for Bethune 

noted in her mountaintop speech that it was an "ideology, the something that we all feel will 

bring mankind together everywhere, if they will only believe and act." 25 



323 
Nevertheless, MRA had its critics. Some believed that social and economic evils could 
not be eradicated by changing individuals alone: collective action to alter the structures of 
society had to take place too, a fact that MRA ignored. The organization spent big money 
conducting its regimented, introspective assemblies, including paying for transportation and all 
other expenses for virtually all guests. Yet it refused to disclose funding sources. For these and 
other reasons, skeptics viewed MRA as an opulently financed, high-rolling movement which 
deceived as well as enlightened. 26 

Ignoring skeptics, Mary McLeod Bethune embraced MRA whole-heartedly. At Caux, 
she had examined herself, listened for the direction of God, and found that she was wanting. 
The experience transformed her. Many friends and acquaintances noticed. Using TELEFACT, 
she told her National Council members about it. "You know, I thought I was so unselfish. I was 
applauded into the belief that I was a great leader-just and pure and honest and loved," she 
confessed. "But I realize how much of what I did was for my own glorification. ... I want to do 
all I can now to make right all of the wrongs." Humbly and sincerely, Bethune went forth trying 
to mend broken fences. She started with her son, Albert McLeod Bethune, Sr., 55, 
acknowledging that she had neglected him in favor of public service. Many friends commented 
on the profound change in her. 27 

Literary Legacy 
In the last year of life, Mary McLeod Bethune continued the journey of reflection that 
had begun in Switzerland. She penned her most thoughtful and celebrated work, "My Last Will 
and Testament," a literary legacy first published in Ebony in August 1955. Since then, that 
magazine has republished it several times, various other publications have done likewise, 



324 
countless hand-outs have come off duplicating machines, and many have intoned it at African 

American functions. 

In the "Last Will," Bethune identified nine principles that had guided her long career and 
accounted for her "making-it" in the midst of American apartheid. One indication that these 
were her personal tried and true standards was the omission of a statement on the importance of 
the family, particularly at a time when mainstream trend-setters were pitching the virtues of 
domesticity. Bethune 's introduced her principles interestingly, and then begins to state them in 
words memorable to many. "I leave you love. Love builds. It is positive and helpful. It is more 
beneficial than hate," she declared. "Personally and racially, our enemies must be forgiven. Our 
aim must be to create a world of fellowship and justice where no man's skin, color or religion, is 
held against him. . . . Loving your neighbor means being interracial, interreligious and 
international." Bethune's first career preoccupation was her last principle. "I leave you finally 
a responsibility to our young people," she asserted. "The world around us really belongs to 
youth. . . Our children must never lose their zeal for building a better world. They must not be 
discouraged from aspiring toward greatness," she wrote. "We have a powerful potential in our 
youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct 
their power toward good ends." 28 

An analytical summary of all the maxims on which Bethune staked her life, written by 
this historian for Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World, follows. Bethune's nine-point 
legacy may be "categorized into three frames of reference. The first covers attributes of 
character central to society's spiritual ideals: namely, faith hope and love. The second 
comprises society's crucial cultural responsibilities, consisting of a 'thirst for education;' 'a 



325 
respect for the uses of power,' or collective political action to promote democracy; and 'a 
responsibility to young people,' meaning the nurture of youth. The third category incorporates 
principles of holistic living essential for the maturity of the black race as America's most 
challenged minority. These are 'racial dignity,' the core of which is facing whites as equals; 'a 
desire to live harmoniously with your fellow men,' that is, attempting to cultivate positive 
relations with whites; and 'the challenge of developing confidence in one another,' or supporting 
self-help businesses." Through the "Last Will and Testament" in conjunction with the 
fruitfulness of her life, citizen extraordinaire Mary McLeod Bethune appeals to others across the 
boundaries of color, race, religion, country, and time to act, as did she, to build a better world. 29 
Into Immortality 

On Wednesday, May 1 8, 1955, after a day's work at her desk and a satisfying fish dinner, 
Mrs. Bethune, 79, died suddenly of a heart attack at 6:15 p.m. at her Daytona Beach residence. 
Arabella S. Denniston, Bethune's former secretary, closest confidante, and alter ego later 
conveyed such information to friends. Arabella had arrived in Daytona from Washington, about 
twelve hours after Bethune's death. She went directly to the deceased's home, once named the 
Retreat but then called the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation. There she stayed. This proud 
graduate of Bethune's girl school, NCNW life member, but most of all, like a loving Bethune 
daughter, wrote of the circumstances surrounding her mentor's passing. Her narration is 
recounted here in part, only little supplemented by other data. 

Almost immediately after physicians confirmed Bethune's death, the college bell tolled 
and surrounding church bells joined in. In silence seven hundred and seventy students encircled 
Bethune's home for nearly an hour. The next morning, the College President, Arabella, and 



326 
local Bethune confidants Bertha Loving Mitchell, Charles Francis, and Maxwell Saxon planned 

the funeral program. B-CC teachers and staff and members of the Women's Advisory Board of 

the college performed other essential chores, with Henrine Ward Banks, Dean of Women and 

NCNW devotee, handling "the housing arrangements for the many, many people from all over 

the country." After all was said and done, Arabella would declare, "Too much cannot be said of 

President Moore and his staff for their tireless efforts and complete cooperation." 

On Sunday, "dressed in a white shroud with a purple tipped white orchid at her shoulder, 

white gloves, and white shoes," Bethune looked as if she were sleeping peacefully. With an 

honor guard, she laid in state at her home. While the local morning daily reported "an estimated 

2,500 persons filed past" Bethune's bier on Sunday, Arabella stated that more than four thousand 

signed the condolence book that day, exclusive of thousands of children. People came late into 

night. On Sunday evening, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority conducted its ritual for their honorary 

member. On Monday morning, the National Council of Negro Women took its turn. Members 

held a quiet hour with their Founder. At one-thirty, the funeral procession started the short walk 

on campus to the White Hall auditorium. 

At 2:00 p.m. college President Richard V. Moore began impressive home-going services 

befitting a great lady. It consisted of songs, prayer, scripture, expressions, obituary, and eulogy 

Daytona Beach native, Howard Thurman, Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University— the 

husband of NCNW stalwart Sue Bailey Thurman-delivered the eulogy. A solid bank of flowers 

flanked Bethune's bronze sealer casket. The auditorium was filled to capacity. Outside its west 

entrance, a thousand more individuals sat in chairs and hundreds more stood listening over loud 

speakers to the services. The Daytona Beach Morning Journal estimated mourners as "some 



327 
3,500;" the Memphis World put them at "over 5,000." 

By the recessional, male students in dark suits, "formed a double chain passageway," 
from the auditorium to the grass covered mound located near the rear of Bethune foundation, 
where Mary McLeod Bethune would be interred beneath the ground she loved so dearly. 
"Young ladies of the college, dressed in white, were flower bearers." "A BEAUTIFUL 
PICTURE!" Arabella exclaimed. "To the soft, beautiful strains of 'The Lord's Prayer,' burial 
ceremonies were read by Dr. James C. Murray, Mrs. Bethune's pastor. She was buried." 
"Thunder rolled a subdued but dramatic background to the burial service and rain mingled with 
the tears" of many leaving the site, reported the local morning daily. "Until the early hours of 
the morning, spectators were coming to see the grave: some to pray, some to weep, while others 
simply stared." 30 

On Thursday, May 19 th , the day after Bethune's death, a grieved Adam Clayton Powell, 

representative from the Twenty-second Congressional District, eulogized her in the 84 th 

Congress. "We have truly lost one whose great and gentle influence has shaped our lives over 

many years. The people of America have lost the keen mind, the rich wisdom, and the infinite 

courage of a woman who has contributed so much to her country," he proclaimed. One of only 

two African Americans in Congress, this New Yorker continued, probably remembering that 

when he entered that body, Bethune had sat with his father. 

The life of Mary McLeod Bethune was so fruitful, 
so varied, and so beneficial to her people and to her 
country that one cannot even attempt to measure 
her loss. We know only that it is beyond calculation. . . 

The life of Mary McLeod Bethune will forever 
serve the people of the United States as a profound source 



328 



of inspiration. Had she succeeded in but one of her many 
fields of interest, she would have made a great contribution. 
But her successes were many because her interests were 
many and varied and because she worked and fought for 
them with determination, wisdom, and infinite courage. 

To her family. ... Be comforted in your sorrow by 
the knowledge that, although a great and noble person has 
passed away, the rich works of her hands and heart will 
endure forever, and she will be eternally cherished and 
loved by all upon whose life she touched. 

When others heard of Bethune's death, telegrams, cards, resolutions, and letters poured 

into the NCNW Council House, just as they did to the Bethune Foundation. NCNW national 

affiliates, metropolitan councils, officers, and members wrote. The NAACP, National Urban 

League, Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and other race improvement 

organizations tendered condolences. So did the National Council of Women of the United 

States, National Council of Catholic Women, and other female groups across the color line that 

had networked with Bethune and the NCNW. Led by the Liberian Ambassador to the U.S., 

various segments of the international community noted her passing too, And politicians, college 

presidents, and others who knew Bethune, from Eleanor Roosevelt on down, communicated 

their sense of loss to the NCNW. Black women journalists weighed in through their respective 

periodicals. Toki Schalk Johnson of the Pittsburgh Courier, probably summed up their thoughts 

and those of many others in remarking, "There will always be women with the same inspiring 

attributes--desires~[and] ambitions [as those of Mary McLeod Bethune], but never again will 

one of them be as hard pressed ..." 

From their great fount of experience with Bethune, former NCNW president Dorothy B. 

Ferebee and President Vivian Carter Mason informed the public of their thoughts and feelings. 



329 
"In the passing of Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune, the peoples of the world have sustained a great 
loss," Ferebee announced. "Wherever she walked, she left the mark of a truly great spirit, 
unconsciously inspiring in others an emulation of her own great powers and personality. She 
believed passionately and completely in the power of people drawn together in the quest of a 
goal of human advancement," she maintained. "Those of us privileged to work close to her 
gained insights to new challenges and inner strengths to meet them." 

Council President Mason, who like NCNW devotee Marjorie S. Joyner spoke at the 
funeral, stated that Bethune "drew people to her like a magnet, for the magic of her voice and 
heroic stature of her dreams and ideas fired men and women alike, for she deemed no problem 
too difficult to resolve nor any height too steep for her to climb. ..." Mason contended, "She 
fought for civil and human rights with every weapon at her command. . . . Her strongest armor 
was the genuine love and charity she held for all people. . . She overcame the overwhelming 
forces of life by reason of her faith in God, her faith in people and her belief in the ultimate 
destiny of America as a moral force in world affairs. . . .She has taken her place among the 
immortals." 31 

While those who knew Mary McLeod Bethune were impelled to convey her character 
and accomplishments, Bethune, herself, had indicated what she was about through many 
memorable statements. Her challenge to the 1952 Women's Leadership Conference imparted a 
measure of her drive and vision. She had proclaimed: 

Let us build the world of our dreams 
A world with freedom blessed 
The world with justice at its heart 
To hope and love addressed. 
A world that cares 



330 



That heals the sick 

That comforts 

Lifts, inspires, and shares-- 

That on the heritage of truth 

Will point a better way to youth. 

A world where the abundant life 

Will take the place of sin and strife 

Where peace of mind and inner strength 

Will be the opportunity 

For all who seek and will it so 

So let us dream and work and plan, 

For a world of love 

For every man. 32 

Notes 

1 . Daytona Beach Evening News, December 26, 1951, 1 , December 27, 1951,6; 
Daytona Beach Morning Journal, January 2, 1952, 1; New York Times, December 28, 1951, 13; 
Gloster B. Current, "Martyr for a Cause," The Crisis (February, 1952), 73-79. Interview with 
B.J. Moore, Daytona Beach, December 28, 2002. 

2. Elaine M. Smith, "Mary McLeod Bethune's Last Will and Testament: A Legacy for 
Race Vindication," Journal of Negro History, 81 (1996), 107-108. 

3. Bethune quoted from Elaine M. Smith, "Introduction: The Last Years," Mary McLeod 
Bethune: Building a Better World," ed., Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith 
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 259. 

4. "Tubman Sworn in Again by Liberia," New York Times, January 9, 1952; George C. 
McGhee [Assistant Secretary of State] to Bethune, November 30, 1951, BF. 

5. Smith, "Last Years," 259; Bethune, "U.S. Will Make 'the Grade' in Integrating All Its 
Schools," in Bethune: Building a Better World, ed., McCluskey and Smith, 274. 

6. Bethune, "Probe of Southern Conference Educational Fund Shocks Writer," April 17, 
1954, in Bethune: Building a Better World, ed., McCluskey and Smith, 279-281. 

7. Leroy F. Harlow, Without Fear or Favor: Odyssey of a City Manager (Salt Lake City: 
Brigham Young University Press, 1977), 255-261. 

8. "Mrs. Bethune Resigns as Insurance Executive in Fla," undated newspaper article, 
Claude Barnett Papers, Chicago Historical Society; Income Statement of the Central Life 



331 



Insurance Company of Florida for the Year Ending, December 31, 1950, BF, showed assets as 
$1,583,740.64. 

9. Smith, "Bethune's Last Will," 1 13-1 15. 

10. Smith, "Last Years," 260. 

1 1 . "Statement to President Truman at the White House Conference," February 28, 
1951, in Bethune: Building a Better World, ed., McCluskey and Smith, 264-266. 

12. Bethune's Federal Personnel Record, Private Collection; Bethune to Harry S. 
Truman, November 24, 1951, Papers of Harry S. Truman, Official File, Harry S. Truman 
Library, Independence, Missouri; Quote from Patsy Graves to Claude Barnett, July 13, 1951, 
Claude Barnett Papers, Bethune File, Chicago Historical Society. 

13. Pero Gaglo Dagbovie, "Black Women, Carter G. Woodson, and the Association for 
the Study of Negro Life and History, 1915-1950," Journal of African American History, 88 
(Winter 2003), 32. 

14. Frederick Patterson, Chronicles of Faith: The Autobiography of Frederick D. 
Patterson (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991), 145-146. 

15. Resolutions of the Board of Trustees of Bethune-Cookman College, Annual 
Meeting, March 19-20, 1952, Richard V. Moore Papers, Bethune-Cookman College Archives; 
Sheila Y. Flemming, The Answered Prayer to a Dream: Bethune-Cookman College, 1904-1994 
(Virginia Beach: Donning Co., 1995), 77-79, documents Bethune's actions in removing James 
Colston. 

16. Bethune, "God Leads the Way, Mary," Christian Century, July 23, 1952, 851-852; 
Bethune to Mrs. A.R. Howard, August 28, 1952, BF. 

17. Quote from NCNW Brochure, undated, NCNW Vertical File, Alabama State 
University; Pittsburgh Courier, November 21, 1953, 8. Audio recording of the NCNW's 
Brotherhood Luncheon, February 26, 1955, Schomburg Center. At this luncheon, President 
Vivian Mason announced that at its last meeting the organization had voted to change its name. 

18. Bethune to Vivian Carter Mason, April 29, 1952, BF, Part 1, Reel 17. 

19. Bethune to Nannie Burroughs, February 14, 1952, Nannie Helen Burroughs Papers, 
3, Library of Congress. 

20. Stella Counselbaum to Hazel Wilson, February 26, 1952, BF, Part 1, Reel 17. 



332 



2 1 . Ruth Danenhower Wilson, "Women's Leadership Conference," TELEFACT, April 
1952,3. 

22. Bethune to Constance Daniels, April 10, 1952, BF, Part 1, Reel 17; Bethune, "What 
the Year 1953 Means to Me,"undated statement for publication, BF, Part 2, Reel 3; Arabella 
Denniston to Bethune, April 8, 1952, BF, Part 1, Reel 18. 

23. Mrs. W. Murdoch [Dorothy] MacLeod to Bethune, April 23, 1952, BF, Part 1, Reel 
18. 

24. This summary of foundation development is based on Elaine M. Smith, 
"Introduction: The Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation—Origins, Vicissitudes, and Prospects," 
Guide to the Microfilm Edition of Mary McLeod Bethune Papers: The Bethune Foundation 
Collection, Part 1 (Bethesda: University Publications of America, 1997) v-x; also used was 
Bethune to Hazel T. Wilson, August 11, 1954, BF, Part 2, Reel 13. 

25. Bethune, "Address to a World Assembly for Moral Re- Armament," [Italics and 
capitalization in the original statement.] July 27, 1954, in Bethune: Building a Better World, ed., 
McCluskey and Smith, 56-58. 

26. The comprehensive critique of MRA is Tom Driberg, The Mystery of Moral Re- 
Armament (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965). 

27. Bethune quoted from Smith, "Introduction: Bethune Foundation," \ii; Bethune, 
"Address to a World Assembly," 57; Interview with B.J. Moore, Daytona Beach, December 28, 
2002; Elizabeth McDuffie, "FDR was My Boss" manuscript, undated, although a version of the 
manuscript was published in Ebony, April 1952, Elizabeth and Irvin McMuffie Papers, Clark- 
Atlanta University Library. 

28. Bethune, "My Last Will and Testament," in Bethune: Building a Better World, ed., 
McCluskey and Smith, 58-61. 

29. Smith, "Last Years," 261. 

30. Arabella Denniston to "Friends," undated [1955], Private Collection, supplemented 
in a few details by the following: "2,500 Pay Tribute to Dr. Bethune," Daytona Beach Morning 
Journal, May 23, 1955, 1, and Dotti Einhorn, "Thousands Pay Respects to Dr. Bethune," DBMJ, 
May 24, 1955, 1; LeRoy M. (Spike) Washington, "Thousands Mourn, Pay Tribute to Mrs. 
Bethune," Florida Star [Jacksonville], May 28, 1955, 1; and Memphis World, May 27, 1955, 1. 

31. TELEFACT, May 1955, Special Edition, 1, 7, Private Collection. This issue carried 
tributes to Bethune from numerous people which the NCNW received at the time of her passing; 
the observation from Toki Schalk Johnson appeared in her column, "Toki Types," Pittsburgh 



333 

Courier, May 28, 1955, 10. 

32. Bethune, "A Serious Call to Women of Valour," Women's Leadership Conference, 
April 4, 1952, BF. 



334 



Chapter 7 
Council House and the Public 

Introduction 

Mary McLeod Bethune and the National Council of Negro Women wanted a 
representative place where people could get to know African American women, their past, their 
present, and their aspirations for the future. For them, that place was their headquarters 
building, at 13 1 8 Vermont Avenue Northwest, Washington, D.C., now named the Mary McLeod 
Bethune Council House National Historic Site. While the facility is no longer owned or 
controlled by the council and certainly no longer serves as its headquarters, nevertheless, one of 
the council's original purposes for the edifice remains in tact and looms ever larger with the 
passage of time. That objective was to showcase a history of black women. This concluding 
section of the Historic Resource Study focuses on that purpose by identifying ways the facility 
could infuse greater meaning into the history of the 1935-1955 period as Bethune and the 
NCNW experienced it, particularly for those who visit and for young residents in the nation's 
capital. It is this historian's understanding that such wide-ranging observations are part and 
parcel of a resource study. These views are offered only from the perspectives of a scholar and 
teacher. 

Almost always, at the conclusion of a study of this nature the author sees research areas 
that remain unexplored either because they are beyond the scope of the study or because of time 



335 
constraints for the work. Regarding the former, for example, "Connections between the 
National Council of Negro Women and the National Association of Colored Women, 1935- 
1955" and "The NCNW in the Black Press" would be in order; for the latter, a comprehensive 
investigation of Bethune in retirement; an in-depth probe of Bethune and the council in relation 
to the world's darker women, or white women, or in relation to the issues that they adopted; the 
work of NCNW regional directors; and case studies of the impact of the national council office 
on the activity of exemplary local chapters or national affiliates. Hopefully, this Historic 
Resource Study will be suggestive of other research topics. But beyond these suggestions for 
investigations, offered here are maxims that should govern the interpretation of the Council 
House to the public; "leads for future collection and project development;" and for visual effect 
and documentary purposes, captioned Council House post cards. 
Governing Principles 

The primary principles that should govern the interpretation of the Council House to the 
public are planting Bethune squarely in Washington, D.C.; presenting Bethune and the council 
within balanced gender and race perspectives; and achieving factual accuracy in all things. The 
Council House does not exist because Mary McLeod Bethune developed her small elementary 
school into a respectable senior college in Daytona Beach, Florida, as concrete and fascinating 
as that story truly is! It exists in part because of ceaseless activity of Bethune and a small group 
of like-minded race sisters to establish a sustained black female political and social presence in 
mainstream Washington, a presence previously lacking. That is equally fascinating, although 
less concrete and therefore, more difficult to communicate. Nevertheless, in terms of the 
Council House, what occurred in Florida under Bethune's leadership is background. What 



336 
happened in the nation's capital under it is the foreground. In line with this thinking, an exhibit 

at the Council House on black women in education involving Bethune, for example, should 

feature her unprecedented work in the National Youth Administration. 

Aside from a priority on a Washington-centered frame of reference for presenting 

Bethune, the public should be acquainted with the gender and race perspectives which were 

integral to the reality of Bethune and the NCNW. It is impossible to appreciate their 

accomplishment without an acknowledgment of the gender-race divide in Washington and the 

country during the time-frame of this study. Knowing that black women seldom entertained 

white women, for example, casts another dimension on the council's receptions for honored 

women, which witnessed the First Lady, Congresswomen, and other white women prominent in 

civic affairs in a black home (Council House) to mix and mingle with black honorees and the 

owners of the home, NCNW members. In another vein, it should be noted that as a group, white 

women, like white men, tended not to support structural societal changes that would give black 

women equal opportunity. This is especially glaring during World War II when it appears as if 

so many white women were perfectly willing to be a part of the new female navy, marines, coast 

guard, and some auxiliary services when black women were denied similar opportunities. 

Gender and race perspectives, however, do not apply only to whites, but blacks as well. 

Often times black men in Washington, for example, did not consider it a priority to assist black 

women in securing professional government employment as they had obtained. Moreover, it 

took more than Bethune to accomplish NCNW objectives. While the council could never 

identify the 800,000 members that Bethune usually claimed, still strong women stood with the 

Founder-President. Where possible, representative women should be emphasized too, such as 



337 
the likes of Dorothy Ferebee, Vivian Carter Mason, Clara B. Bruce, Carita V. Roane, Florence 
Norman, Dorothy Height, Jeanetta Welch Brown, Mame Mason Higgins, Anna Arnold 
Hedgeman, Elsie Austin, Ruth Mueller, Ruth Scott, Addie W. Hunton, Mary Church Terrell, 
Mabel K. Staupers, Estelle Massey Osborne, Daisy Lampkin, Addie W. Dickerson, Marjorie 
Stewart Joyner, Lucy D. Slowe, Abby Johnson, Bessye Bearden, Mary J. McCrorey, Sue Bailey 
Thurman, Arabella Denniston, Ethel Ramos Harris, Alma Illery, Audley Moore, Arenia Mallory, 
Edith Sampson, Eunice H. Carter, Sadie Alexander, Harriet C. Hall, Eleanor C. Dailey, and 
Vada Sommerville. The lack of a proper gender perspective is most evident in the six striking 
postcards sold in the Council House souvenir shop. Two are beautiful color photographs: one of 
the Council House; the other, the Bethune statue in Lincoln Park. Two cards feature Bethune 
with one or more individuals: the first, with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; the second with 
President Harry Truman and eleven other black leaders, all men. Two other post cards render 
Bethune standing alone: one, at the White House gate; the other, with the nation's capitol 
building behind her. Copies of postcards are the next division of this chapter. Not one of the six 
cards showcases Bethune with a single black NCNW member. This is a lack of balance, 
considering that the Council House site should project not only Bethune, but also, black women 
of her era. 

In addition to grounding Bethune in the capital city and presenting her and the council 
with due regard to gender and race perspectives, the third principle desirable in interpreting the 
Council House to the public is factual accuracy in all things-literature, exhibits, oral 
presentations, audio and video instruments, hand-outs and the like. Sometimes that means 
adhering strictly to a set of facts presented or reinterpreting them within a broader understanding 



338 
of Bethune and the NCNW. Although the identification for the attractive photograph of Mary 

Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt on the Council House postcard is partially missing in the NCNW 

Papers, still there are the words "this testimonial . . . honoring her [Bethune] thirty-eight years as 

president of Bethune-[Cookman] College." Also in the identification is a notation of Bethune's 

successor as B-CC president and an identification of ER. ' Somehow, in the caption on the 

postcard, this became Bethune speaking "at Bethune-Cookman College's 35 th anniversary 

celebration," which occurred on February 18, 1940, in Daytona Beach. The former, or original 

identification was correct. The photograph was taken on March 8, 1943, at Asbury Methodist 

Church in Washington, DC, in recognition of Bethune's thirty-eight years as the head of B-CC. 

This was part of a three-city lecture tour that Eleanor Roosevelt and on one or two occasions 

Pearl S. Buck, winner of Pulitzer and Nobel prizes in literature, were making with Bethune to 

raise funds for the perennially strapped B-CC. 2 If this were an isolated example of the Council 

House fostering inaccurate information, perhaps, it could be overlooked, but it is not. 

Understandably, the Council House is handicapped in consistently projecting facts about 

Bethune because relatively few documented studies exists. In fact, fewer than a dozen scholars 

have published substantive work on phases of Bethune's work. Considerably less have focused 

on Bethune and the NCNW. Consequently, the Council House has had to rely on undocumented 

secondary sources, with more than average misstatements resulting. Perhaps the most common 

and significant misstatement it perpetuates is that Bethune was an adviser to four U.S. 

presidents: Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman. This 

can be traced to Rackham Holt's 1964 idealized, superficial, and undocumented Bethune 

biography, probably the single volume that has been most consulted for Bethune data. But Holt 



339 
was confused when she wrote, "In the fall of 1928, she [Bethune] received a letter from the 
White House saying that President Calvin Coolidge was calling a Child Welfare Conference and 
asking her to attend." Holt then related Bethune's impression of Coolidge and the nature of the 
conference. 3 The truth is that the only presidents convening White House Conferences on the 
child as of December 1, 1930, according to Time magazine on that date, were Theodore 
Roosevelt (1909), Woodrow Wilson (1919), and Herbert Hoover (1930). Holt mistakenly 
attributes to a phantom Coolidge conference, Bethune's experiences at Hoover's conference on 
"Child Health and Protection," November 19-22, 1930. Bethune, however, did meet President 
Coolidge on May 7, 1925, when he entertained the U.S. contingent to the Sixth Quinquennial 
Convention of the International Council of Women at the White House. Holt got it right when 
she declared that at the time Bethune met Coolidge at the White House, "He greeted formally 
the hundred or so women assembled there." Note the absence of male guests. 4 At that time she 
formed the unfavorable opinion of him that Rackham Holt recorded. Bethune could not have 
been his adviser! 

Moreover, it is a stretch to say that Bethune was an adviser to even three U.S. presidents. 
The primary support for asserting that Bethune advised Herbert Hoover was attendance at two of 
his White House conferences: the one on Child Welfare and Protection; the other on Home 
Building and Home Ownership the next year. At the former alone, 1,200 delegates attended. 
Thus she advised Hoover only as thousands upon thousands of others did. Probably the only 
time that she saw him in a small group was with a few black leaders who visited the White 
House on December 5, 1929, at noon. 5 

Bethune was an informal presidential adviser~in the sense of personal access to the chief 



340 
executive~to two presidents: Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. Bethune's role as an 

adviser to FDR is generally known. And, Truman freely acknowledged that she counseled him. 

In 1950, he noted her "outstanding but completely selfless contributions to the common weal." 

Furthermore, he contended, "Distinguished has been your service to the national Government as 

a trusted adviser to me and my predecessor. In war and in peace you have met all calls to duty 

faithfully and well." Within a month after his grand inauguration the previous year, Bethune had 

told friend Constance Daniel, "President Truman called me to see him last Monday. Think of 

that. I had a good talk with him. . ." Even though advising only two presidents, Bethune's 

stature remains in tact, for she significantly impacted the country in other ways as well. 6 

The greatest concentration of inaccurate Bethune information at the Council House is in 

the orientation video on Bethune. Made in 1994, Mary McLeod Bethune: Educator is in the 

Black Americans of Achievement Video Collection II series. Developing a new orientation 

video is the most urgent need of the Council House in projecting Bethune to the public. It is 

unseemly for a federal agency to perpetuate misstatements about the NCNW Founder, especially 

when the effect is to attribute to her false accomplishments. The current video does this. In 

addition to incongruities between screen images and accompanying narrative, this historian 

spotted about twenty misleading declarations. Informed scholars could have been consulted to 

avoid them. For example, the video asserts that Bethune turned the tables of the Ku Klux Klan 

to pave the way for the first black public schools in Daytona. If the film-makers had glanced at 

the local City Directory, 1900-1902, they would have known that a public school for black 

Daytona existed then; had they consulted the Federal Writers Project for Daytona they would 

have learned that a public school for area blacks extended back into the nineteenth century. 7 



341 
Bethune only arrived in Daytona in 1904. As the black public school might suggest, this 
pioneering lady came to Daytona because African Americans fared relatively well there when 
measured against most other small towns in Florida. 
Leads for the Future 

As stated in the document undergirding this work, the study should offer "leads for future 
collection and project development," which it does. As mentioned above, a new orientation 
video is needed immediately! In addition to communicating accurate information, it could plant 
Bethune squarely in Washington and give due recognition to gender and race perspectives, 
including a presentation of Bethune, not as a lone ranger, but in tandem with other ebony women 
who helped to position the NCNW in the social and political life of the capital. It could feature 
the Bethune Council House, its notable activities during 1944-1955, and project a "Daybreak in 
Civic Affairs" for African American women. Suitable projects this Resource Study suggest 
relative to exhibits and/or brochures, in particular, include: "The NCNW and its Issues," 
"NCNW Heroines: Annual 'Roll of Honor,' 1945-1949," "The NCNW and the Female 
Military," and "Suited for the NCNW Presidency: The Black Press Speculates in 1949." 
Moreover, the Council House could develop a photographic history of Bethune and the NCNW. 
Perhaps, it could become a traveling exhibit or one that could be reproduced for venues dealing 
with women's history. Other "leads for future collection and project development" are stated 
below. 

1. A list of all manuscript collections of women prominent in the NCNW, 1935-1955. 
The list could note also pertinent vertical files and allied collections, especially the papers of the 
National Association of Colored Women's Clubs in Washington. This project could start with a 



342 
statement of the collections at the Bethune Council House and other repositories in Washington; 

and the several collections of Mary McLeod Bethune--the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation, 

Bethune-Cookman College Archives, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, Fisk 

University Archives, and the Florida State Archives in Tallahassee. It could branch out by 

listing those at the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture, namely, the Bessye 

Bearden Papers, and the separate vertical files for the NCNW and Bethune. From the 

Schlesinger Library for Women's History at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Women's 

Studies in Boston could come the collections of Edith Sampson and Charlotte Hawkins Brown. 

Then, the papers of NCNW members in all other cities could be added, including those of 

Eleanor Roosevelt and other non-black NCNW life members. Had such a listing been available, 

the papers of Marjorie Stewart Joyner in Chicago would not have been overlooked in this study. 

2. A complete run of the Aframerican Woman 's Journal. Since history is as much about 

the thoughts of people as their actions, and the NCNW showcased its ideas and interests in its 

official organ, it is of importance that all issues of the Aframerican Woman 's Journal, later 

known as Women United, be available at the Bethune Council House, along with a listing of all 

issues. Such ready access to this quarterly would aid significantly in systematically captioning 

unidentified or incompletely identified photographs in the extensive NCNW photograph files 

because many of them appeared in the journal. Moreover, scholars would find it a valuable 

reference tool for varied investigations. Seemingly, the NCNW Papers already contain almost 

all issues. The project could involve determining what "a complete run"is because, sometimes, 

issues were combined and maybe missed. Then it could survey libraries, archives, older NCNW 

members, or locate the missing issues in other ways and then acquire the originals or copies. 



343 
3. Mary McLeod Bethune's Washington. This would involve placing on a map of 

Washington the sites associated with Bethune and identifying reasons that the sites were 
important to her. Developed as a game, puzzle, brochure, exhibit or hand-out, this project could 
be a valuable teaching tool for youngsters, especially those living in the capital city, by helping 
them to become familiar with their city. Sites might include, but would not be limited to, 
Bethune's northwest residential addresses at 316 T Street, 1812 9 th Street, and 1318 Vermont 
Avenue; her northwest NYA addresses from 1340 G Street (1936) to 2145 C Street (1943); 
places she frequented, such as the National Association of Colored Women's Headquarters on O 
Street (which has been torn down and replaced by another building), the Phyliss Wheatley 
YWCA, Howard University's Rankin Chapel, Baldwin Hall, and old Freedmen's Hospital, 
Asbury Methodist Church—where she claimed watch-care membership—and other churches; 
government landmarks, including the White House, capitol, Labor Department, Interior 
Department, Justice Department, and Lincoln Memorial; and places she visited once or 
occasionally, such as the Howard Theater, American University, the Willard Hotel, and the 
Shoreham Hotel. 

4. A Co-operative Project with the Washington, D.C., Public School System for 
Elementary Youngsters. In 1982, when Governor Bob Graham named Mary McLeod Bethune to 
the Florida Women's Hall of Fame, he reaffirmed important truths: she was "one of the foremost 
women of her time and an inspiration for all time." Bethune's Chicago Defender publisher, 
John H. Sengstacke, had once explained why. "Hers [Bethune's] has been a life that blossomed 
despite inhuman treatment, discrimination, segregation, disfranchisement, peonage, and all other 
injustices directed at a downtrodden people." 8 In addition to profiting from meaningful 



344 
exposures to the inspiring quality of Bethune's life, most youngsters in the DC. public schools 

could probably identify with Bethune on varying levels. Any project would be appropriate that 
would potentially motivate grade-schoolers to understand that they can rise above ascriptive 
limitations by exploiting opportunities they have now; and that what others see as limitations for 
them, they might turn into assets. Moreover, a project on Bethune could add interest to these 
children learning about government and their own city. Maybe it could be undertaken with the 
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, so that most children could identify with both a 
towering historical male and female personality. 

5. Development and Promotion of Scholarly Literature on Bethune. Currently, most 
Americans appear to think that women of color didn't rouse themselves to noteworthy civic feats 
until Montgomery Bus Boycott luminary Rosa Parks sat down in 1955. Time magazine's special 
issue on the most influential heroes and icons of the past century, dated June 14, 1999, 
seemingly perpetuates this view, recognizing seven black men in the struggle for black 
empowerment, but only a lone black woman, Rosa Parks. The Bethune Council House National 
Historical Site could more aggressively take on the responsibility of combating such historical 
absent mindedness through the development and promotion of scholarly literature on Bethune. 
It could be done in multiple ways, ranging from assisting in a process for publishing the Mary 
McLeod Bethune Papers-with a product similar to the Booker T. Washington Papers— down to 
expediting the microfilming of the National Council of Negro Women Papers, particularly for 
the 1935-1955 period. Such efforts would help to engage scholars and others in the life of a 
woman whose influence in the varied venues of education, service organizations, and 
government has seldom been matched. 




5htmune Council ftou5L 

WA5MINGTON, DC 

The Mary McL=od £)ethune Council Mouse National Mistoric 5ite was the last o 
residence of educator, political activist, and presidential adviser Maru hAc[_coA £)et 
The 5«cond Elmpire Victorian townhouse at I 8 I } Vermont Ave., NW, in the Logan (_ 
Mistoric District, nows houses the National Archives for £>laclt Women's Mistoru. 
Lbethune bought the house in l?-t} to serve as the first headquarters for the Nat 
Council of Negro Women The National Park 5*™'" administers the building, \ 
Congress designated a national historic site in \J32. 



Council House Post Cards 



Mary McLeod Bethune 
Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C. 

Educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune passes on to 
youngsters her love of learning. The 15th child of freed slaves, 
she became a teacher, founded a college in Florida, and was 
advisor on minority affairs to four presidents. In 1935 she 
founded the National Council of Negro Women. 







Mary McLT-OD 5ethune. and Capitol 



t , 



Council House Post Cards 



Educator, political activist, and presidential adviser Mary Mc|_eod £>ethune stands b 
the (J. 5 dapitol in an uncredited photograph taken in the mid- to late i^+Os. /\ bro 
sculpture or her, the first-ever statue of a black, woman in the city of Washineton, DCi 
dedicated in Lincoln fark in l?7+. her former home and the first headquarters or" 
National (Council of Negro Women still stands today, on Logan Circle; 't '5 a unit of 
National [ark Service and houses the National Archives for £>lack Women's history. 




Mary Mclzop 5etmune. at tme. Wmite. Mouse. 
Washington, DC 

Mar., McL«d £>ethune I 15.75-1???: stands at the gates of the Wh'te Mouse, » l?+? A 
good friend of fW Lady D«nor Roosevelt s, Mrs bethune served as an adviser on 
minority affairs to President franklm D Roosevelt as well as to president, Cnlv-n C.oolidge 
Herbert hoover ,.c\ harry Truman She first rose to prominence as an educator for her 
work building Bethune-Cookm.n C°"^ in Dayton, beach. Pond. WW* ,n 
Washington PC help.n* lend the %«. for , „1 right, she served M director of the Djvs.or, 
of N*gro Affair in th, ! >al Yoi'th Adn.in.stratior. and organized the Nat.onal Council 

\ lre.ro Women 



5etmune.-Cook.man Colle.ce, Daytona bEAOi, FL 

FJeanor Roosevelt ( 1 58+- 1? 62), who served nearly 12 years as Franklin Delano Kooseve 
first Lady, listens to her friend and fellow civil rights and women's rights activist M 
McL<=od bethune ( I 875" '95 5) speak at bethune-Cookman College's 5 5th annivers 
lebration. Mrs. bethune, who worked to build this college, first rose to prominence as 
educator, her experience helped make her a respected adviser to four (J 5 presidents, 
daughter of freed slaves, she served as director of the Division of Negro Affairs in I 
National Youth Administration and organized the National Council of Negro Women. 




Council House Post Card 




Mrs Bltmunf witm PRFSiDfiNT Truman and black lmadfrs 

Washington, DC 

|n this I ?+8 photo by fred harns, educator and civil rghts activist Mary McLeod bethune 
(l*75-l?55) S'ts at a conference table with President |-| arry "Truman and Walter White, 
surrounded by prom.nent black leaders Sending left to right are F_ M = nderson, benjamin 
Mays. W Townsend, A f hilip Randolph, b'shop bel, D Davis, C Johnson, Ginning 
Tobias (hidden), R booker, and Lester Granger (rear) Mary McLeod served as a minority 
affairs adviser not only to President Truman but to his three immediate predecessors p-anldin 
Roosevelt. Herbert hoover, and C 3 '* 1 " C« ' ; dge 



348 
Notes 



1. Photograph Number 902, National Council of Negro Women Papers, Series 14, Box 
3, Folder 5, Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, National Park Service, 
Washington, DC. 

2. Pittsburgh Courier, March 13, 1943, 9, and March 20, 1943, 9. 

3. Rackham Holt, Mary McLeod Bethune: A Biography (New York: Doubleday, 1964), 
184-188. 

4. "Child Welfare," Time, December 1, 1930, 38-40; Elaine M. Smith, "Milestones: A 
Selected Chronology," in Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World, ed. Audrey Thomas 
McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 289-290. 

5. "Hoover Calls Upon Nation to Give Child 'Fair Chance' in Stress of Grueling Era," 
New York Times, November 20, 1930, 1; the Washington Post contended that more than 3,000 
were registered for Hoover's conference on children in "Hoover Opens Parley on Children's 
Health with Keynote Speech," November 20, 1930, 1; Bethune, Entry for December 5, 1929, 
Dairy for 1929, Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation, Bethune-Cookman College. 

6. Truman to Bethune, July 6, 1950, Papers of Harry S. Truman, President's Personal 
File, Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, Missouri; Bethune to Constance Daniel, February 
5, 1949, NCNW Papers, Series 5, Box 10, Folder 181. 

7. City Directory, "The East Coast and Daytona," 2-3, at the Cornelia Young Library, 
Daytona Beach; John A. Simms, ed., "Negro Education," Daytona Beach, Florida, Federal 
Writers Project," September 21, 1936, P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History, University of 
Florida. 

8. Quoted from Elaine M. Smith, "Introduction: From '1939 Honor List' to 'An 
Inspiration for All Time,'" Guide to the Microfilm Edition of Mary McLeod Bethune Papers: 
The Bethune Foundation Collection, Part 3 (Bethesda: University Publications of America, 
2002), viii; Chicago Defender, November 26, 1949, 1. 



349 



Appendices 




May the names Mary McLeod Bethune 

and the National Council of Negro Women 

stand forever as symbols of women united 

joined in the cause of world brotherhood and peace. 



From the Scroll of Honor presented to Mary McLeod Bethune by the National Council of Negro Women 

November 18, 1949 



350 



Appendix A 

Annual Meetings of the National Council of Negro Women 

1935-1955 



December 5, 1935 
December 17, 1936 
December 18, 1937 
November 26, 1938 
November 3-4, 1939 
October 24-26, 1940 
October 16-18, 1941 
October 15-17, 1942* 
October 15-17, 1943* 
October 12-15, 1944* 
October 30-31, 1945* 
November 13-16, 1946 
November 10-14, 1947 
October 10-13, 1948 
November 15-18, 1949 
November 16-18, 1950 
October 24-27, 1951 
1952** 

November 12-14, 1953 
November 8-13, 1954 
November 8-12, 1955 



137 th Street YWCA 

137* Street YWCA 

137 th Street YWCA 

137 th Street YWCA 

137 th Street YWCA 

Department of Labor 
Department of Labor 
Southside Community Art Center 

137 th Street YWCA 
Department of Labor 
Department of Labor 
Department of Labor 
Department of Labor 
Department of Labor 
Department of Labor 
Department of Labor 
Department of Labor 

Department of Labor 
Department of Labor 
Department of Labor 



New York 
New York 
New York 
New York 
New York 
Washington, D.C. 
Washington, D.C. 
Chicago 
New York 
Washington, D.C. 
Washington, D.C. 
Washington, D.C. 
Washington, D.C. 
Washington, D.C. 
Washington, D.C. 
Washington, D.C. 
Washington, D.C. 

Washington, D.C. 
Washington, D.C. 
Washington, D.C. 



*Due to the exigencies of the war years, the federal government prohibited large conventions. 

Therefore, during this period, the NCNW held workshops for members of the Executive Board 

and selected guest. 

**At the 1951 regular meeting, the NCNW voted unanimously to hold biennial meetings. In 
1952, however, it held a workshop at the Council House for the Board of Directors and 
department chairpersons on November 14-16, 1952, climaxed by a dinner meeting at Howard 
University. In 1953, the NCNW voted to resume annual meetings. 



351 



Appendix B 

Milestones during Mary McLeod Bethune's NCNW Presidency 

1935-1949 



December 5, 1935 
Mary McLeod Bethune organized the National Council of Negro Women and was elected its 
president at the Harlem YWCA, 179 West 137 th Street, New York. 

1936 
The Women's Auxiliary to the National Dental Association was founded by A.A. Mackel to 
promote dental health and education and to support the National Dental Association. 

The Women's Auxiliary to the National Medical Association was founded by Alma Wells 
Givens and N.M. Byrd to promote education related to health and sanitation and in other ways to 
support the work of the National Medical Association; also, to foster fellowship among members 
of the NMA and their families. 

April 29, 1936 
At Howard University during its second meeting, the NCNW elected a slate of officers for the 
first time. 

June 24, 1936 
Bethune assumed full-time government employment as the ranking specialist on Negro Affairs 
in the National Youth Administration, at 1340 G. Street, N.W, Washington, D.C. 

July 25, 1936 
The NCNW was incorporated in Washington, D.C. 

August 7, 1936 
Bethune convened a meeting of seven other government employees at 3 16 T Street, N. W., 
Washington, D.C, which led to the organization of the Federal Council on Negro Affairs, 
commonly called the Black Cabinet. 

October 27, 1936 
Bethune elected president of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History during its 
annual meeting at Virginia State College in Petersburg. 

December 17, 1936 
Bethune attended the first meeting of the President's Special Committee on Farm Tenancy as a 
member of the committee. 



352 



1937 
Lambda Kappa Mu founded by Florence K. Norman in New York to stimulate businesswomen 
to greater personal advancement, cultural awareness, and an appreciation of women's progress; 
also, to foster fellowship. 

January 6-8, 1937 
Bethune presided over the National Conference on the Problems of the Negro and Negro Youth 
at the Department of Labor, 14 th and Constitution Avenue, Washington, D.C., sponsored by the 
National Youth Administration. 

January 23, 1937 
Bethune's first Pittsburgh Courier column appeared; the last one was on June 18, 1938. 

April 9, 1937 
In the person of executive secretary Lucy Slowe, the NCNW testified before a Congressional 
Committee for the first time. 

December 18, 1937 
The NCNW initiated the dinner session at its annual meeting, with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt 
as speaker at New York's Harlem YWCA. 

April 4, 1938 
The NCNW held a White House Conference on Governmental Cooperation in the Approach to 
the Problems of Negro Women and Children. 

November 20-23, 1938 
Bethune an other NCNW members attended the first meeting of the Southern Conference for 
Human Welfare in Birmingham. Bethune was elected a vice-president at large. 

January 12-14, 1939 
Bethune presided over the Second National Conference on the Problems of the Negro and Negro 
Youth at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the National Youth 
Administration. 

April 9, 1939 
Bethune and 75,000 others attended Marion Anderson's Easter Concert at the Lincoln Memorial 
in Washington, DC. Earlier, Bethune had protested the denial of a public school auditorium for 
the Anderson concert; Eleanor Roosevelt had protested the denial of Constitution Hall, which 
the Daughters of the American Revolution owned. 

April 26-May 10, 1939 
Bethune was a delegate at large to the historic Uniting Conference of the Methodist Episcopal 
Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church in Kansas 



353 

City, Missouri. 

November 27, 1939 
With other panelists, Bethune addressed the topic, "What Democracy Means To Me" on 
"America's Town Meeting of the Air," originating in New York and carried nationwide over 
radio. 

February 18, 1940 
Bethune presided over the Thirty-fifth Anniversary Celebration of Bethune-Cookman College. 
Director of the National Youth Administration Aubrey Williams and First Lady Eleanor 
Roosevelt gave the principal addresses. 

April 1940 
The inaugural issue of the Aframerican Woman 's Journal, NCNW's quarterly organ, appeared. 
Sue Baily Thurman was editor. 

August 1940 
The NCNW held a Cuban Seminar in Cuba. 

October 24-26, 1940 
For the first time, the NCNW moved its annual meeting from New York to Washington, D.C., 
where it met at the Labor Department and held a session at the White House. 

October 1941 
The NCNW was admitted into membership of the essentially white National Council of Women 
of the United States. 

November 1941 
After protest, the NCNW was admitted into membership of the essentially white Women's 
Advisory Council of the Women's Interest Section lodged in the War Department of the United 
States. 

April 20, 1942 
Along with President Frank Porter Graham of the University of North Carolina, Bethune 
received the Thomas Jefferson Award for Outstanding Service to the South, from the white-led 
Southern Conference for Human Welfare at its biennial meeting in Nashville. 

June 27, 1942 
Bethune assisted in the initial selection of officer candidates for the Women's Army Auxiliary 
Corps through a five-day detail from the National Youth Administration to the War Department 
in Washington, DC. 

September 29, 1942 



354 



Bethune officiated at the launching of the Booker T. Washington, the first liberty ship to be 
named for an African American, in Los Angeles. Contralto Marian Anderson christened the 
vessel. 

October 15-17, 1942 
At the Southside Community Art Center, the NCNW held its annual meeting in Chicago for the 
first time. 

November 15, 1942 
In Chicago, Lovonia H. Brown organized the Women's Army for National Defense (WAND) to 
provide volunteer services. Each chapter was named for an outstanding African American 
woman, with the first chapter designated as Mary McLeod Bethune. 

December 15, 1942 
Bethune resigned the presidency of Bethune-Cookman College. 

April 1943 
The NCNW employed Jeanetta Welch Brown as it first full-time, salaried executive secretary. 

June 1943 
The inaugural issue of TELEFACT, the NCNW monthly newsletter, appeared. 

The NCNW held its first Wartime Employment Clinics. 

July 4-10, 1943 
The NCNW held "We Serve America Week" to demonstrate the contributions of black women 
to the war effort. 

August 1943 
The NCNW presented solicited recommendations to officials of the Women' Army Corps for 
recruiting African Americans. 

September 12-18, 1943 
The NCNW participated in "Hold Your Job Week," an activity observed in black communities 
in most states. 

1944 
Bethune's article "Certain Unalienable Rights" was published in What the Negro Wants, edited 
by Howard University historian Rayford W. Logan. 

January 24, 1944 
Bethune officially left government because of the liquidation of the National Youth 
Administration. 



355 



February 11, 1944 
The NCNW took the initiative in sponsoring with the National Council of Jewish Women, the 
National Council of Catholic Women, the National Women's Trade Union League, the National 
Council of Women of the U.S., and the National Board of the YWCA, a national planning 
conference on "Building Better Race Relations" for leaders of thirty national women's 
organizations. Held in Washington, D.C., and featuring First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt as a 
speaker, it explored "methods of joint social action in the areas of education, economic security, 
health, housing, and citizenship, and formed a Continuation Committee that met for at least two 
years. 

June 3, 1944 
In cooperation with the New England Shipbuilding Corporation, the S.S. Harriet Tubman, the 
first liberty ship named to honor a black woman, was launched in Portland, Maine, under 
NCNW auspices. 

October 13, 1944 
The makings of an annual International Night at the NCNW convention occurred at the 
Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. Representatives of the Phillippines, Liberia, Mexico, 
Costa Rica, France, China, Haiti, Great Britain, and Belgium gave expressions. The featured 
speaker was former U.S. ambassador to Norway, Florence Harriman. 

October 15, 1944 
The NCNW dedicated its headquarters building at 1318 Vermont Avenue, N.W., Washington, 
D.C. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, publisher-social worker Agnes E. Meyer, and educator 
Charlotte Hawkins Brown gave addresses. 

February 10, 1945 
The NCNW initiated a reception at Council House for individuals on its first annual "Roll of 
Honor" of outstanding women.. Topping the list were First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who like 
most of the sixteen honorees, collected her award in person. 

March 1-2, 1945 
Florida A & M College held a "Testimonial Celebration Honoring Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune" 
in Tallahassee. 

April 3, 1945 
After the NCNW and other organizations intervened, the army voided the court marshal 
sentences of four black women enlisted in the Women's Army Corps. They had served in Fort 
Devens, Massachusetts. 

April 13, 1945 
One of several speakers, Bethune eulogized President Franklin D. Roosevelt during a national 



356 
radio tribute on the eve of his White House funeral. 

April 24, 1945 
Officially representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as an 
associate consultant to the United States delegation, Bethune began a five-week stint at the 
United Nations Conference on International Organization, which drafted the United Nations 
Charter in San Francisco. More than fourteen NCNW members attended sessions. 

July 10, 1945 
The NCNW held a Seventieth Bethune Birthday fundraiser, with Bethune present and Secretary 
of Commerce Henry K. Wallace speaking, at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. 

July 16-24, 1945 
With four other members of the women's National Civilian Advisory Committee, Bethune 
toured six hospitals in the northeast to observe the work, housing, and adequacy of training of 
servicewomen in the Women's Army Corps. 

October 27, 1945 
Marjorie Stewart Joyner of Chicago organized the National Association of Beauty School 
Owners and Teachers at the NCNW Council House in Washington to serve as a clearinghouse 
for beauty culture schools, both large and small. Mary McLeod Bethune and Congressman 
William Dawson, Chicago Democrat, were the national sponsors. 

1946 
The NCNW established a regional organizational schema to help provide leadership for local 
councils. 

1946 
The NCNW achieved observer status at the United Nations in New York with attorney Eunice 
Hunton Carter, who had attended the 1945 founding of the organization in San Francisco, as its 
official representative. 

1946 
President Harry Truman appointed Mary McLeod Bethune to the President's Highway Safety 
Conference that most state governors attended. 

January 18-27, 1946 
Bethune spoke in nine cities, located in five southern states, on behalf of the Southern 
Conference for Human Welfare. 

July 1, 1946 
Bethune resumed the presidency of Bethune-Cookman College for one year. 



357 

July 27-August 2, 1946 
As a former president and chair of its headquarters Trustee Board, Bethune attended the Golden 
Jubilee biennial meeting of the National Association of Colored Women in Washington, D.C. 

December 5, 1946 
President Harry Truman appointed NCNW stalwart Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, 
Philadelphia's assistant city solicitor, as one of two women and the only black woman on his 
fifteen-member national Committee on Civil Rights. The following year, it produced the hugely 
influential report, "To Secure These Rights," calling for the federal government to take positive 
steps to eradicate racial segregation and discrimination. 

September 2-12, 1947 
A representative number of NCNW members attended the triennial meeting of the International 
Council of Women in Philadelphia, the first such meeting since World War H NCNW President 
Mary Bethune was one of the ten official delegates from the U.S. National Council of Women. 

February 15, 1948 
The NCNW gave a formal diplomatic reception at Council House in honor of Haitian 
Ambassador Joseph D. Charles and Liberian Minister and Mrs. C.B.D. King. "Representatives 
of seventeen legations, distinguished government officials, and outstanding citizens" were 
included among five hundred guests. 

March 4, 1948 
Under the leadership of honorary co-chairs Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary Church Terrell and 
chair Channing H. Tobias, Mary McLeod Bethune was given a Testimonial Dinner at the 
Roosevelt Hotel in New York, attended by 450 citizens from various walks of life. 

October 16, 1948 
Bethune 's first Chicago Defender column appeared; the last was on June 4, 1955. 

February 2, 1949 
The NCNW sponsored singer Carol Brice in concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. 

February 21, 1949 
Bethune received from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, a Doctor of Humanities Degree, 
the first honorary degree awarded by a Southern white college to an African American 

March 15, 1949 
Bethune featured on "This Is Your Life" national television show, originating in Los Angeles. 

April 1949 
Bethune's photograph, against the backdrop of the nation's capitol, filled the cover of Ebony 
magazine, which carried her article, "My Secret Talks with FDR." 



358 

April 22-23, 1949 
Jeanetta Welch Brown organized the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers 
in New York to promote creative talents, encourage high work standards, and open new 
business, employment and educational opportunities to its members. 

June 24, 1949 
As the NCNW representative, Edith Sampson began the "Town Hall World Seminar," a two- 
month, 35,000-mile journey around the world with representatives of twenty-six other nationally 
recognized organizations. Towards the end of the trip, Sampson, the only black woman 
participating, was elected president of the seminar. 

July 12-22, 1949 
Bethune visited the Republic of Haiti as a guest of its government and received the Order of 
Honor and Merit, the country's highest award. Haiti had never before bestowed this honor on a 
woman. 

November 13, 1949 
President Harry Truman was the guest speaker for International Night at the NCNW annual 
convention held at the Labor Department Auditorium in Washington. The NCNW presented 
outstanding citizenship awards to United Nations Director of Trusteeship, Ralph Bunche; the 
first woman ambassador to the U.S., Vijaya Pandit of India; veteran organizational and civil 
rights activist, Mary Church Terrell; the first black circuit judge William H. Hastie, of the Third 
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and twelve others. 

November 18, 1949 
The NCNW held a gala dinner honoring Mary McLeod Bethune on her retirement from the 
NCNW presidency, in the dining room of the U.S. Department of the Interior. At that time, the 
organization had twenty-three national affiliates, eighty four local councils in twenty-six states, 
and hundreds of life members. 



359 



Appendix C 
National Affiliates of the National Council of Negro Women in 1949* 

Listed below are the national affiliates of the National Council of Negro Women in 1949. The most important 
national women 's organization that failed to affiliate with the NCNWwas the National Association of Colored 
Women, founded in Washington, D.C. in 1896. 

1. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority - Organized in 1908 at Howard University by Ethel Hedgeman 

Lyle and eight others to encourage high scholastic, cultural, and ethical standards among 
college women. It was the first Greek-letter organization for black college women. 

2. Chi Eta Phi Sorority - Organized in 1932 at Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C, by 

Aliene C. Ewell and eleven others to elevate nursing standards and to stimulate others to 
pursue health care careers. 

3. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority - Organized in 1913 at Howard University by Osceola McCarthy 

Adams and four others to promote high cultural, intellectual, and moral ideals, and 
involvement in the suffrage movement 

4. Grand Daughter Elks - (Grand Temple, Daughters of the Improved Benevolent and Protective 

Order of Elks of the World) Organized in 1902 by Emma V. Kelley to combat illiteracy 
and juvenile delinquency; protect civil liberties; and teach needlework, thrift, and public 
speaking. 

5. Imperial Court, Daughters of Isis - (Auxiliary of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order, Nobles 

Mystic Shrine of North and South America) Organized in 1910 in Detroit at the annual 
meeting of the male order to practice constancy in accepting responsibility as befitting an 
intelligent, adult citizenry practicing Christian principles. 

6. International Heroines of Jericho - (International Conference of Grand Courts Heroines of 

Jericho, Prince Hall Masonic Order) Organized in 1 884 to instruct children in the "lead 
and follow" method and to give scholarships. 

7. Iota Phi Lambda Sorority - Organized in 1929 in Chicago by Lola M. Parker with six others to 

promote higher education among high school girls, to provide scholarships in business 
education, to sponsor school typing contests, and to stimulate business education among 
members. 

8. Lambda Kappa Mu Sorority - Organized in 1937 in New York by Florence K. Norman to 

stimulate businesswomen to greater personal advancement, cultural awareness, and an 
appreciation of women's progress; also, to foster fellowship. 



360 

9. National Achievement Clubs - Organized in 1935 by Alma Illery to help the needy at home or 

in hospitals and to strengthen education work in the community and elsewhere. 

10. National Association of Beauty School Owners and Teachers -Organized in 1945 in 

Washington D.C., at the NCNW Council House, by Marjorie Stewart Joyner to serve as a 
clearing house for beauty culture schools both large and small. Mary McLeod Bethune 
and Congressman William Dawson, Chicago Democrat, were national sponsors. 

11. National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses - Organized in 1908 in Philadelphia by 

Martha Franklin and Adah Thorns to promote the best interests of nurses, including 
graduate nursing education, and to foster integration of African Americans into the 
American Nursing Association. 

12. National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers - Organized in 1949 in New York 

City by Jeanetta Welch Brown to foster creative talents, encourage high work standards, 
and open new business, employment, and educational opportunities. 

13. National Beauty Culturists League - Organized in 1919 in Philadelphia to foster good public 

relations especially "by encouraging standardized, scientific and approved methods of 
hair, scalp, and skin treatments;" to serve as a clearing house for members, an industry 
lobby in legislatures, and in other ways promote the welfare of members. 

14. National Jeanes Association - Organized in 1942 as the National Association of Jeanes 

Supervisors, consisting of teachers for Southern black rural schools who emphasized 
vocational subjects and were supported by the Negro Rural School Fund, better known as 
the Jeanes Fund, from heiress Anna Jeanes. In 1937, this fund merged with others to 
create the Southern Educational Foundation. 

15. National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa - Organized in 1923 in Jersey City by Julia Asbury 

Barnes and five others to facilitate the work of teachers in promoting educational 
advancement. 

16. Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority - Organized in 1922 at Butler University in Indianapolis by 

Nannie Mae G. Johnson and six others "to promote fellowship and professional growth 
among school teachers." 

17. Women's Army for National Defense - (WAND) Organized in 1942 in Chicago by Lovonia 

H. Brown to provide an instrument though which black women could render volunteer 
service in their communities to promote American victory in world War II. 

18. Women's Auxiliary to the National Dental Association - Organized in 1936 by A. A. Mackel 

to advance dental health and education and the National Dental Association. 



361 

19. Women's Auxiliary to the National Medical Association - Organized in 1936 in 

Philadelphia by Alma Wells Givens and N.M. Byrd to advance education related to 
health and sanitation and generally, the National Medical association; also, to foster 
fellowship among members. 

20. Woman's Home and Foreign Missionary Society, AME Zion Church - Organized in 1880 in 

Montgomery, Alabama, at the denomination's General Conference, with Mrs. S. T. Jones 
of Washington, D.C., as president, to propagate the gospel at home and "in Africa, and 
other distant lands" through the support of missionaries and conference activities. 

21. Women's Missionary Society of the AME Church - organized in 1944 through a merger of 

the African Methodist Episcopal Church's Woman's Mite Missionary Society and the 
Woman's Home and Foreign Missionary Society. It's purpose was to promote services to 
people in need at home and abroad. 

22. Women's Missionary Council of the CME Church - Organized in 1918 to assist in 

evangelization, to develop needed programs, and "to promote cooperation, fellowship, 
and mutual counsel" within the life of the church. 

23. Zeta Phi Beta Sorority - Organized in 1920 at Howard University by Arizona Cleaver and 

four others "to expand the concepts of and dedication to scholarship, service, and 
sisterhood." 



This listing relies mostly on "National Black Women's Organizations 1863-Present," a 
typescript compiled by Archivist Susan McElrath in 1 995 for the Bethune Museum and 
Archives, Inc., now the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, National Historic Site, 
Washington, D.C. 

The national affiliates are listed as they appear in the Printed Program of the NCNW 14 th 
Annual Conference, November 15-18, 1949, Washington, D.C, pages 4-6. The only affiliate 
listed in this program that is excluded above is Heroines of Jericho of Texas. This affiliate 
appears to be a state organization and does not appear on the convention program either the year 
before the '49 conference or afterwards. 



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